nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (cities are made to be known)
Sailor Twain; or, The Mermaid in the Hudson is a very nifty webcomic that's still new enough that it shouldn't be hard to catch up quickly from the beginning. Today's post had this really cool thing in which the creator talked about the Chinese concept of the literati, and I just had to have it here for myself:
This is not our Western idea of an effete, cerebral, bookish type. This is the adventurer of the inner worlds, a sensuous, heroic sort of scholar, with an unseen connection to other literati of past ages.

This bond across time—more than just having a favorite author or something—this loving bond arcs across space and centuries, linking lives and minds in deep chains of feeling. In this connective way, studying the greats of the past isn’t just academic. It’s about joining them, becoming them a little, receiving from them, and even giving oneself to them, backwards through time, through art. Exciting stuff right?
Mood:: 'intrigued' intrigued
Music:: "Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth," Neko Case
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (jazz age)
Unbelievable landscapes — totally unreal and just real enough.

Last night I picked up an old copy of The Mystery Writer's Handbook that my mom gave me the last time I was home. I think a lot of my sensibilities about writing come from mysteries, even though I don't particularly seek them out. My mom does, though, and would always play them whenever she was doing something that required a backdrop: chores, walks, car trips, commuting. We also were regular viewers of Mystery! on PBS. At a young age I was a particular devotee of Hercule Poirot, Brother Cadfael, Hettie Wainthropp and Rumpole of the Bailey. Mysteries were a constant presence growing up, and I always loved the suspense and the occasional terror, often mixed in with fantastic humor and great characters. Even though I don't seek out the genre, I also think it's kind of a perfect genre, and as this book points out, there's a strong reliance on form that really serves the stories well.

Anyway, Mom gave me the book because she thought I might find it useful, and I think I really will, given the quick flip-through I gave it before bed. I fell asleep thinking about how I should finish The Falling Woman (a constant theme here, I know) and let myself move on to other things. Setting up a routine is really the trick, from what I can see, and NaNo did that so effectively by creating the panic of meeting your wordcount every day. I have today off work, and maybe now I have a plan for what to do when I'm not clearing out my apartment in advance of the Imminent Move (which sounds like a great title for something, now that I think of it).
Music:: "Nixon's Walk," Michael Kamen (Band of Brothers soundtrack)
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (horror is ordinary)
I am taking a break from a serious apartment-scouring, which is revealing two things to me: one, I have an inane number of weird little things that don't really go anywhere, and two, I cultivate dust bunnies like nobody's business. I have to do this now, not only because the marvelous [personal profile] oliviacirce is coming to visit in a few days, but this is essentially my last chance to do a thorough clean before December, because God knows when I'll make myself do it during NaNo.

I'm really enjoying ramping up into this endeavor: I find I've been doing a lot of notebook scribbling, and while I'm aware that I'm pretty firm on the beginning of the story and most of the end (though not the very end), there's still this big blank spot in the middle labeled "QUEST" in my outline. I like to think that if I world-build well enough, this will work itself out. (Or I can just fill it all in later: after all, I seriously doubt I'll have a satisfactory middle section on the first draft, when I want to write what I know.) Fingers crossed either way. I see this project as much bigger than 50,000 words.

Every so often, I'll be messing around and realize something. The ghosts, for instance, aren't traditional looks like the person in life but translucent. They're masked; they're disguised; they've been made into symbols. I got this because of happening on Betsy Walton's work on Etsy. Her prints look like something from a mindmeld between '50s and '60s surrealist animation (you know, like the hyper-abstract backgrounds from shorts about spacemen or Precambrian science) and William Blake.

See what I mean? )
Music:: "Giants Orbiting," Ian Ballamy, Mirrormask soundtrack
Mood:: 'cold' cold
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (star witness)
Usually I hold off on my Etsy lust for other venues, but this map of the United States is absolutely, 110% necessary once I am no longer poor from paying rent and tuition for my next session of improv classes in the same week. It's not about state lines, it's about collage. The field of "amber waves of grain" is a great Midwestern Mythic counterweight.

I'll have to find a place to put it. I have a ton of framed prints and photos that I need to hang before they gather too much dust.

Pictures, frames and maps )
Mood:: 'hungry' hungry
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (August and nothing after)
Today is Mexican Independence Day, and in the little outdoor area across the street from work a mariachi band with six dancers gave a concert. It was wonderful. (To the person behind me who said that if this was a real party, they'd be doing shots right now, screw you for missing the point and being a jackass.) The costumes were incredible, with red sashes and gold embroidery and silver coins on black costumes for the men, and intense, full skirts and incredible hairdos with ribbons woven in for the women. The women wore purple, green and orange, and all six dancers as well as the singers yelped and trilled and sang and stomped.

The woman in orange took over: she would dance because she wanted to, by God. She flirted and mocked and grinned and talked back and swayed her hips, and she was so in control and mighty. The only time she was quiet and more reflective-seeming was during the second half of a love song, this gorgeous, full-throated serenade by one of the male band members. It was amazing to see. I want to know more.
Music:: "Catfish Blues," Robert Petway
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (they didn't know what else to do.)
Not that I should be surprised that this happens in a bookstore like Borders, but I found myself incredibly frustrated by the "weird books" corner, where they put their sci-fi, fantasy and endless tie-in novels. Each and every blurb was more and more boring than the last, and I realized with intense clarity that if it stars vampires, werewolves or some variation on fairies (in whichever most obnoxious spelling you choose), I don't want it in my hands. This is a shame on one level, because animal transformation is one of my favorite tropes forever and ever amen, but all the plots and characters just struck me as so tired and done to death. Why do I want to read one more book about the irony-laden modernization of Old World monsters or the hidden underworld of ancient creatures struggling to get by between the grittiness of modern humanity and the vicious politicking of their own kind? It's just not for me. It wasn't the first time. A book might be the greatest thing since Neil Gaiman's last, but no matter what, it's just not my kind of story.

Which begs a few questions, of course: as someone who considers herself a lover of fantasy, what is? What does that mean? Two possibilities come to mind on my end, and one came together thanks to my sudden headlong descent into the world of Etsy. A blog post celebrating "weird art" dedicates itself to the artisans on Etsy whose creations spawn their own realities. One of the books I took home yesterday was The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (so you can rest easy, [personal profile] wireless), which so far as I can tell (and I'm only a very few pages in) is that there's a pseudo-Venetian culture and a little magic. It's long on humanity and short on creatures. (Again, I could be wrong. But I don't need to be right for the sake this argument, conveniently enough.) Not that the creatures I'm deriding above aren't psychology, but they're not the only ones, and I find the rest so much richer and more interesting (possibly because they're not all metaphors for sex and desire and self-control).

I got distracted: I think what I'm trying to focus on this idea of creations that spawn their own realities. That really works for me. (For the interested, the other book I picked up was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, about which I've heard nothing but excellent things. Three cheers for epistolary WWII-era stories!)

The other angle is realizing that it's possible that I don't love fantasy so much as mythology. This is not to dismiss fantasy (whatever that means) in its entirety, but nearly all my favorite books are about the stories people tell each other. Not to give away my favorite author or anything, but American Gods, Anansi Boys, The Sandman, Mike Carey's Lucifer — even the time travel novels of Connie Willis are about historians seeking out the lives of the bygone and familiar. One of the things we're learning in my current level of improv comedy classes is that once your character is solid, the plot happens organically on its own. Character is what drives a scene; on a macro level, I'd call mythology just that. It doesn't apologize for or satirize its setting or its culture: it goes about its business and tells its own damn story.

(Wow, I sound humorless as I read this over. I'm all for subverting this, that and the other for the sake of sharp commentary and belly laughter, but I'm picky. Still, if you want a fantastic fairy story, my friend Yotam wrote a real corker once upon a time.)
Music:: "Where I Lead Me," Townes Van Zandt
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (star witness)
It's one of those days. My boss is out today and there's very little to do (two 200- to 300-word articles for my NPO's magazine and a draft of a blog post for our website). The only creamer that's communal is this ghastly powdered kosher stuff, which means I've only been here a little over ninety minutes and I'm already contemplating a trip to Caribou Coffee. Read more... )
Music:: "Wireless," Imogen Heap/"The Water Jet Cilice," Andrew Bird
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (abstract functions)
posted by [personal profile] nightbird at 11:59am on 11/08/2009 under
Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World by Carol Kaesuk Yoon, from her forthcoming book Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science

I love science. I'm not good with math, so as a profession in itself, it's not entirely open to me without far more work than I'm willing to put in, but I love to read about it and talk about it and think about its implications. Science writing is a field I actually toyed with for a bit in high school and early college, before I realized that I was happiest with my dead novelists and deader playwrights and very dead Greek epic poets. My English professor dad has moved more and more toward reading science writing for pleasure since his partial retirement from teaching: less linguistics and more neuroscience, letting literary analysis take a back seat to evolutionary biology and human migration theories.

I asked him why he didn't read novels anymore, and I think he said, for the most part, that he was burned out on them. Science writing at its best is a beautiful thing, with truth about the physical world and the way humans live in it (or don't) framed in clear, elegant language. One of my desert island books is Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, who recognizes that there shouldn't be separation, in the big picture, between discoveries and the process of discovery and understanding. (Connie Willis is a science fiction author who makes great use of this conceit.) History of science books are also marvelous, not just for the hilarious things people used to believe with great earnestness (always a somewhat humbling read, at the back of your head), but wonderful catalogs of human genius in parsing the world around them.

This book, Naming Nature, looks like it's going to hit a lot of my bulletproof kinks: storytelling about people in the sciences, as well as learning how people not in the Western scientific establishment organize the world. One amazing thing I learned from Arctic Dreams was how Native people in the Arctic regions draw maps, how locations are emphasized not because of physical landmarks but events or stories: this is where I shot a walrus, this is where a bear caught one of my dogs. I'm not doing justice to the system, but the passages in the book describing this system are really incredible.

Beyond exploring taxonomies other than the one I grew up with, there seems to be something to be learned for storytellers too from Naming Nature, which is another reason I'm hoping to track it down:
Just find an organism, any organism, small, large, gaudy, subtle — anywhere, and they are everywhere — and get a sense of it, its shape, color, size, feel, smell, sound. Give a nod to Professor Franclemont and meditate, luxuriate in its beetle-ness, its daffodility. Then find a name for it. Learn science’s name, one of countless folk names, or make up your own. To do so is to change everything, including yourself. Because once you start noticing organisms, once you have a name for particular beasts, birds and flowers, you can’t help seeing life and the order in it, just where it has always been, all around you.
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (in a city by the water)
So, who got wise about worries related to her dearly beloved but not terribly compliant (in that "come out with your plot and characterization up!" sort of way) novel and went and bought for scribbling and easy carrying a Norton Macbeth, which is so nerdy I can't even begin to tell you, save for the fact that she passed over many other, much prettier editions in favor of the one with sources, essays, parodies and extensive footnotes?

This kid!

It seems funny to say this, but Lady Macbeth is... way, way nastier than I remember. I mean, yeah, not that she was ever nice, but it's amazing what you forget when you work with your own version for a couple of years and don't return to examine the source text. It's also impressive how much she and Macbeth are a team. They really are, at their best, a two-person show.

I'm also thinking about how war factors in to the characterization of each. Having spent some time with plenty of WWII literature, particularly firsthand accounts, I'm not sure if I agree yet with the connections I seem to be making, but maybe I do: that coping with human horror allows Macbeth to toy with evil. We'll see: he's only just meeting the three murderers in Act III, and I haven't gone at this with a pen, I've only been reading on the train to and from work. But oh man, it is fun to read the witches and think about how I see the Quiet Sisters.

The other good thing is it's reminding me that there were more characters to consider in building Lady M and Macbeth -- there's also their relationship to Banquo, to Macduff and all their families. Doing a little retelling and backstory may be quite fun.
Mood:: UChicagolicious
Music:: "Oleander," Kris Delmhorst
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (the fox confessor)
I'm at odds with a story I've been harboring for a long, long time and the kind of story I want to tell these days. The soundtracks don't match up: the story is old world, and all I can think is dusty American spaces, faded bricks and big skies and huge muddy rivers and rusting pick-up trucks and radio static and empty train tracks and tall grasses and people who love God in churches no one has heard of.

I'm trying to make the playlist for the novel I haven't found the shape of, and it's all Neko Case and Tom Waits and Kris Delmhorst and Iron & Wine. The other one is Lhasa de Sela and Trio Mediaeval.

I miss back roads and backwoods and violently alive greenery and the smell of the air. It's something in the light. There's nothing modern in the other story; the story I want to write is the scraps of modernity.

Maybe I'm trying to fix the wrong novel.
Mood:: 'thirsty' thirsty
Music:: "The Pharaohs," Neko Case



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