Friday, August 22, 2014

Writing, but mostly reading

A number of months ago I joined a writing group here in Weyburn. When everyone attends, there are eight members - mostly women in our 50's and 60's, and one guy who looks about 18.

Several of the members have written and published for years - novels, children's books, articles in magazines. Weyburn, lest we forget, was the childhood home of one of Canada's favourites, W.O. Mitchell. Maybe it's something in the water. I hope.

Anyway, there are assignments. This month the assignment is nice and vague - write an essay about something that interests you. 

Good grief, where to start..

Earlier in the month I decided to take a stab at learning the basics of how to write. I found a site that discussed 8 important elements, without which, stories won't fly. I would learn how to stitch a story together from Alice Munro. Might as well choose someone at the top of the heap, right?

Lots of her short stories are online. I picked one called "Train." My self-assignment was, parse out the Munro story and decide which twist of the story fits each element.

Easier planned than done. I haven't finished this task yet. Truth is, I find her stories a little boring. I do not know why. I just do. I like Margaret Atwood's take on her stories more than I like the stories themselves. Oh well.

She didn't get the Nobel prize for literature this year for nothing, however, so I'm sure there are important things about writing I will learn by studying "Train", dissecting it, savouring it, learning to like it for its structure.

Writing that got my attention
Yesterday I read two pieces that captivated. The first was posted to Facebook by a friend of mine. (Not just some anonymous Facebook friend - an actual friend who I first met there.) 
It was a BrainPickings blogpost about the writing of Alan Watts. Suddenly I was re-inhabiting my own youth. Yeah, I remember that depressing song about "all the houses on the hillside made of tickytacky and they all looked just the same."

I grew up with his ideas. Well, not from childhood - rather when I finally achieved the right to read whatever I wanted anytime I wanted, in my twenties. I ate up everything that decade. It was the seventies. Didn't understand a lot of it yet, but ate it up anyway.

The part my facebook friend quoted is so good I'm going to quote it here, too. 
We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body — a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”
This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.
I love the idea that the universe "peoples" the same way the ocean "waves." That we come out of it, like leaves come out of a tree, then after a little while, after we've caught some sun, done our job, we drop off.  Then life goes on as though we were never there. 
Perfect.  Exact.  Bare. 
And I love that this perfect, exact, bare idea is congruent with reality, science, what is known. We are all stardust, and eventually, after we've burned through life, the universe takes back its elements to itself, and we go back to being the way we were before we were born.

More writing that got my attention
I found another article linked by yet another facebook friend that I've actually met in life,  a magazine article about a hermit who had lived in the woods in central Maine, and managed to elude people for almost three decades, living from food and cooking supplies he stole from a nearby summer resort community.  
And books he stole.  Hundreds of books. 
He was finally caught after being spotted with some fancy surveillance equipment, and put away in jail. He could barely speak anymore, but when he did, what came out of his mouth was fabulous. This:  
"I did examine myself," he said. "Solitude did increase my perception. But here's the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn't even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free."
The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand.

After you've been alive for several decades, that's exactly how fast life does start to feel.  Time itself, perfect, exact, bare, ticking by, each year whacking your head against that rubber brake on your way around, on the wheel of fortune to which you are glued, spread-eagled, every year feeling as though the wheel has sped up instead of slowing down.

I remember reading something said by a woman over a hundred years old, who, when asked how she was enjoying life in her senior's home,  remarked, "It's fine, but it feels like breakfast is served about every twenty minutes." 


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