Monday, September 24

Thank Goodness for Fitzgerald

Today is F. Scott Fitzgerald's birthday, and obviously, as one of my favourite authors, he deserves a tribute.  

He was born on the 24th of September 1869, and died of a heart attack on the 21st of December, 1940.  His legacy of great American novels consists of such essential classics as The Great Gatsby, The Beautiful and Damned, This Side of Paradise, Tender is the Night and The Last Tycoon.  

For me, and for countless other readers and writers, Fitzgerald's work is inspirational.  The atmosphere of his work effortlessly transports you to the Jazz Age.  He weaves around you a palace of words that tantalises all your senses, lets you smell smokey rooms, lets you feel salty sea spray in summertime, lets you hear traffic on New York streets and silverware in French cafes, and the voices of people so absurd and marvellous that they are bigger than life.  He has taught me one of the greatest lessons - to read and write with all the senses, and yet no one can do it quite so brilliantly as he does.  

He is timeless.  I don't believe that there was ever an author from any era who so perfectly painted a picture of their time and place.  He gives colour to an era of which the only memories are black and white photographs.  As the works of Monet, Renoir, Degass and Davinci are significant to the art world, so his portraits of life, both tragic and triumphant, are to the literary world.  

So happy birthday, Francis.  Thank goodness that you lived as you did.  

Francis, Zelda and Frances Scott Fitzgerald

Saturday, September 22

Writing Advice from Lemony Snicket

In past years, I have often thought about sending a letter to Lemony Snicket.  I never did.  I couldn’t think of anything to ask specifically.  Really, all I wanted though, was some scrap of advice from a writer who is totally comfortable in himself.  A writer who is unafraid and yet childlike in honesty and wonder.   I really just wanted in his words, whatever he thought was most important for me to know.  I have an answer. 

Dear Young Writer, 
Being a writer is like being a mad scientist, because you must work alone, in a lonely room, stitching together something new out of the parts of old things you’ve found during your secret journeys.  For a writer, this means you must spend time eavesdropping on the world, writing down things you see and hear while no one is paying attention to you.  This is best done with a notebook, and the first thing you should write down in your notebook is an excuse, so if you are ever caught eavesdropping you will have a good reason why you are standing outside that door, hiding behind that tree, or standing quietly in a room where interesting things are going on, when you have been told to go to bed. 
Lemony Snicket.

(Quoted on p46 of Karen Benke’s Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing 2010)

Lemony Snicket’s words were recorded in Karen Benke’s book of creative writing prompts and encouragements.  His advice does not surprise me one bit, and yet it is so significant and thrilling to hear it put into words by his famous hand.  Writers must be toilers, discoverers, wonderers, observers, recorders.  These words give me so much to think about.  There’s nothing that we can’t do straight away.  We can immediately begin to toil, discover, wonder, observe, and record.  For some, it will require a change in perspective, but for others it merely requires the will power to begin implementing these qualities.  We already have the capacity to work hard and wonder, but let’s just do it.  I now make the decision to wonder.  I mean to take this advice to heart.  

Friday, September 21

Acts of Rebellion

I've always been a good kid.  As in, I've never wagged school, never abused teachers or bullied students, I've never dared neglect my homework, my assignments are always on time, my most rebellious act in the my highschool years has been to dye my hair with a red rinse that washes out after a week.  I'm not game enough to do anything truly rebellious, but even so, I have moments that mark small victories in my journey towards a freer me.  

This week is the last week of term three.  I have had two days off.  The first day, I went to the movies with my mum.  Today, my second day off, I am going to work on my book and finish my university applications.  For me, this is a big deal.  I didn't come to the decision to accept my mother's offers to stay home lightly.  To choose to stay home, I experienced huge amounts of guilt.  I felt so morally obligated to go - to not let my best friend be a loner in last period - to fulfill the goody-two-shoes stereotype which I have so faithfully adhered to these past five years.  Taking these days off has been a victory in several ways.  Not only have I been able to break through my fear of abandoning the 'law' of school, I have also been able to rearrange my priorities and come to the revelation that I am not a stereotype.

Well, perhaps I do qualify for a few stereotypes.  But this act of rebellion serves a purpose deeper than merely breaking a stereotype in the eyes of my friends.  I first thought that the goal was to make everyone else see that I am not stereotypical - that I can be spontaneous and free and frivolous when I please.  But then I realised that I don't care so much what my friends think about me, because I know that whatever I do, they'll just accept it.  So what is the point of rebelling?  

I realised suddenly that the point was to be true to myself.  The goody-two-shoes thing was a design to fit into the system - a safety net of sorts.  While I am very naturally a studious, hard-working busy beaver, these small rebellions are a way to be true to a deeper part of me.  I didn't dye my hair to change everyone's view of me.  I dyed it only for a week because I am the sort of person who doesn't want gross regrowth or the permanent stain of a bad decision.  I dyed it red because, at heart, I just really wanted to dye it red.  

So now, I think about my days off.  I am not taking them off to show people that I am being a rebel.  I am taking them off because I am exhausted, and I want to.  I am not sticking it to the system.  I am acting upon true self.  

Thursday, September 20

Tolkien Week and Hobbit Day

It's Tolkien Week this week, and to celebrate, director Peter Jackson has a gift for all Tolkien-lovers.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the film that is killing all Tolkien fans with suspense.  Now there is a brand new HD trailer, showing ever so much more Bilbo Baggins actions than ever.  

Now that you are appeased with all the extra content, I'd like to tell you a little about the concept of Tolkien Week.  Tolkein Week is the calendar week containing September 22 (Hobbit Day).  The idea is mainly for bookstores and libraries to celebrate the works of J.R.R. Tolkien during the week, sometimes through the endorsement of his literature as well as Lord of the Rings movie marathons.  

Hobbit Day on the 22nd of September, is possibly the oldest celebration of the Tolkien fandom, giving fans of the books and films an official opportunity to flaunt their love for Lord of the Rings.  The date of Hobbit Day was specifically chosen to coincide with the Bilbo and Frodo's shared birthday.  I think this is just such a sweet and simple way to pay homage to the greatness of Tolkien.  Perhaps I'll have to do some reading - or watching - to celebrate.  

So there you go.  Happy Tolkein Week!

Sunday, September 16

Henry V

Today was the day of the annual Shakespeare in the Park festival, held at the Einbunpin Lagoon of Sandgate.  This is always a highlight of my year, and this time, the weather was perfect in honour of the occasion. 

The performance was of Shakespeare's history, Henry V.  Previously, the plays have taken place on a single rectangular stage with a wing for the strings quartet and several platforms for different settings.  This year, much to my delight, it was staged in the round.

For me as a drama student, this was doubly exciting, and triply so because I'd never seen anything acted in this format before.  To stage a play in the round is to perform on a circular stage, around three quarters of which sits the audience.  This means that the actors have to perform to all angles.  To make it even more thrilling, there were six low platform set up at regular intervals within the seating area, with roped off walkways from each to the central stage.  This meant that often actors seemed to run straight through the audience.  It was very effective at engaging the audience and raising the level of tension.  Also, as the play is set at several different locations, it was much easier to understand when a change of setting took place.  

So, to appease your appetites, here are some photos.  The glare on the camera lens made it impossible to take more than a few good shots. 

Characters introduced 

Execution of the traitors

The King of France

Henry V

The King of France in battle against England

Henry V hears of the English loss

The small platforms 

View of the stage 

Wednesday, September 12

Rip the Page: What Can You Write With?

I got the lovely book out from the library on Saturday, called Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing by Karen Benke.  The subtitle sums up the contents: "Includes wordplay, open-ended writing experiments, encouragement from writers and poets, and enough blank pages to let your words roam..." Needless to say that after flicking through the first few pages I was absolutely gripped by a ravenous need to write.  

This book is beautiful for its ability to inspire very abstract and whimsical images and provoke deep feeling and thinking.  I would like to share with you the very first activity in the book.  

Forget the usual suspects: pencils, pens, paint, chalk, Sharpie markers, purple crayons... What if you could write with anything today?  What if you could wedge between the fingers of your left or right hand, a memory?  Your infinite imagination?  The power of creativity?  A spinning planet?  The state of forgiveness?  A tree trunk, or a ray of sunlight?  Well, guess what?  In the realm of creative writing, you can.  There are trillions of possibilities, and they keep on expanding into endless whirling patterns.  What can you add to things you can write with today?
 What I Write With
I can write with the tainted light of tattered forgiveness.
I can write with the smallest stars of almost-not-seen.
I can write with the long sticky threads of sacred spider webs.
I can write with the spinning planets of darkness and danger.
I can write with my unseen, dazzling trick-up-my-sleeve schemes.  

Karen Benke.  (2012)  Rip the Page. Trumpeter, Boston and London.

If not you as a writer, surely you as a reader can be excited by the possibilities that are open up by this!  For me, this is compelling!  I feel frantic to appease my soul by writing.  

So this is what I wrote in response:

I can write with the skeleton keys of secret long-locked doors.  

I can write with the salty, wet grit of war-beaten beaches.

I can write with the excitement of not quite reaching the ship-in-a-bottle on the top shelf of Grandma's wardrobe.

I can write with a sassy spattering of womanly angst like red paint.  

Now it's your turn.  

Sunday, September 9

Personify your Potty

On my weekly trip to the library, I grabbed a book by Natalie Goldberg called Writing Down the Bones.  Ms Goldberg is a writing teacher, and the book is basically a whole lot of little lessons in writing.  She quotes the poem of Russell Edson in her chapter, Nervously Sipping Wine.  It was so quirky and lovely that I thought you would enjoy it:

With Sincerest Regrets
Like a white snail the toilet slides into the living room, demanding to be loved.
It is impossible, and we tender our sincerest regrets.  In the book of the heart there is no mention made of plumbing.
And though we have spent our intimacy many times with you, you belong to an unfortunate reference, which we would rather not embrace...
The toilet slides out of the living room like a white snail, flushing with grief...

The personification and imagery of this is so captivating.  I just enjoyed the place of... I suppose enlightenment that this took me.  I love how personification gives you an expanded consciousness to things that you were not previously aware of.  


Saturday, September 8

Living in Sonnet Form

I just finished reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  For a long while, I’ve felt obligated to read it after hearing how C.S. Lewis acknowledges her influence in his ideas for Narnia.  (And Madeleine L’Engle’s influence is very evident – especially in The Silver Chair with the Lady of the Green Kirtle). 

It took me a few chapters to get into it, but once I was into the action, it was compelling and thought-provoking.  Although it was written for children, I found it very suspenseful and even almost scary as I read about the Man with the Red Eyes and IT all alone late at night. 

In the final chapter, a conversation between Mrs Whatsit and Calvin O’Keefe especially interested me:

“[A sonnet] is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?”  
“There are fourteen lines, I believe all in iambic pentameter.  That’s a very strict rhythm or meter, yes?”  
“Yes.”  Calvin nodded.  
“And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern.  And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?”  
“But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn’t he?”  
“Yes.”  Calvin nodded again.
 “So,” Mrs Whatsit said. 
“So what?”  
“Oh, do not be stupid, boy!” Mrs Whatsit scolded.  “You know perfectly well what I am driving at!”  
“You mean you’re comparing our lives to a sonnet?  A strict form, but freedom within it?”  
“Yes.”  Mrs Whatsit said.  “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.  What you say is completely up to you.” 

Madeleing L’Engle.  (1962). Chapter Twelve: The Foolish and the Weak.  A Wrinkle in Time

I just really liked this metaphor.  I like the thought that though time restricts how much we can fit into our lives, what we do with that time is completely our choice.  It gives me this great sense of living a poetic, lyrical life.  And when you are reawakened to the complete freedom and potential of the poem, it feels like a million possibilities open to you, and life is richer.  

Thursday, September 6

The Green Gables Reunion

This post is a celebration of Anne – the Anne that we all know as our own best friend in ways individual to our reading experience.  I write this as a welcome to the grown up Anne, to the next leg of my life journey.

Your first experience of reading Anne of Green Gables is one of the most significant and memorable experiences of your life.  I have only to momentarily think about it before I swoon in a cloud of joy and sentimentality.  My memories of Anne are entwined with all the good things of my childhood – my relationship with my mother, my relationship with my father, my first ever birthday present, my first book, my first proper grown-up chapter book, my first taste of classic literature. 

My copy of Anne of Green Gables was a present from my aunty, given to me the day after I was born.  All throughout my early childhood, I tried and failed to read it, continuously asking Mum to read me the first little bit to see if I could understand it yet.  When I finally did, I digested it, absorbed it, took its heart and processed it through my system.  Anne is integral to my being. 

For a long time, I never read any of the other books.  I was a stubborn reader.  As a child, and even now to some extent, I boycotted things for the sake of being loyal to the original – I never watched the Eddie Murphy Doctor Doolittle movies because it was slanderous to the Hugh Lofting books.  I was also convinced that if I read the rest of the Anne series, I would destroy the pure and untainted sanctity of the first, that reading more would destroy the perfection of what I had read.  Which was fine for a while, but then I began to crave more.  I had grown up, and now I was ready to meet the grown up Anne.  It was a coming-of-age thing. 

However, I wanted my own copy, and I really couldn’t bear the idea of reading the abridged version, so I toiled long and hard searching for the beautiful, hardback Cornstalk edition. 

On Tuesday, the 4th of September, I found it. 

This post is a celebration of Anne – the Anne that we all know as our own best friend in ways individual to our reading experience.  I write this as a welcome to the grown up Anne, to the next leg of my life journey.  

Wednesday, September 5

A Loss for Words - the Language of the Body

Sign language is something that excites and fascinates my mother.  She was reading an article related to her university study and she read this passage to me.  It immediately engrossed me. 

The story of a wedding at the end of A Loss for Words illustrates and widens this observation. The author, Lou Ann, faces the incapability to interpret the whole beauty and depth of the speech given in sign language by her father during her sister’s wedding. ‘My interpretation was inadequate. My father’s signing was graceful and expansive. It had the beauty of a conductor leading a symphony orchestra. There was nothing clich├ęd in what he signed. No translation could have been as expressive or as moving as the way he drew his hands through the air.’  Facial expression, movements, sense of space are a part of sign language. That opens up a whole new reservoir of the depth of meaning and expressions of meaning.

Encountering Deaf People and Levinas by Sandra Daktaraite.

I encourage you to think about this.  She could not translate a speech in sign language because there were no words that expressed so richly and completely the eloquent language of the body.  This is profound for me.  I adore language, and this passage made me rethink my perception of language.  Language is verbal and physical.  How beautiful is that?!!

Monday, September 3

Dear Sallie McBride

I do apologise for not speaking for so long.  When I'm not reading, I don't have anything to say, but finally, as I settle into an intensive routine of study, work, and spare time, I am getting a good hour each night to enjoy a book before bed.  

The lack of compulsion to read anything in particular led me to make an impulsive and brilliant decision.  A while back, my aunty was cleaning out her house and she gave me a stack of books that she read as a teenager.  Several of these were L.M. Montgomery, another was Lousia May Alcott, and then there was one that I knew nothing about.  

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster.  I had never even heard of the book.  As I slid it in between Eight Cousins and Madame Bovary on my bookshelf, I thought to myself that I would probably never take it out again.  But as I sat in bed, craving something new to read, my eyes fell upon it and I simply decided to read the blurb.  Then I simple decided to read the first page.  Then I simple decided to commit my heart and soul to that glorious story.

Dear Enemy  takes the format of a series of letters to various people by one Sallie McBride, a flamboyant Irish social-butterfly living during the early 1900s in America.  At the beginning of the book, she has just been "conned" into temporarily taking up the position of superintendent at the John Grier Home, an orphanage run by two friend of hers.  Her purpose for staying on longer than arranged begins as a point to make to her politician beau, and then as a genuine conviction of love for the job.  All this is made beautifully tantalising and suspenseful by the growing romantic tension between her and the brusque Scottish doctor, Robin McCrae, or Sandy as she fondly refers to him in her letters.  It’s amazing how she doesn’t see it to begin with, but to the reader, it is scrumptiously obvious that she is falling in love with him, and he with her – the charming, outgoing, redheaded girl, and the short-tempered, sturdy, reliable doctor.  They fight and find each other dreadfully frustrating, but oh, the delights of matchmaking between literary characters is a pleasure for gods! 

I cannot emphasise enough, however, how the real compelling quality to this short and snappy 190 page read comes from Sallie McBride’s voice.  As the book takes the form of letters written from Sallie to her friends – or to her ‘Enemy’ the doctor – it is her voice that drives the plot.  And it is a beautiful voice.  It immediately reminds me of myself, but a larger, stronger, braver version, with the same worries and the same prides.  She is authentic, human, totally real in my heart, and I cannot be convinced otherwise. 

Sallie McBride, in the short week that I spent with her, has become one of my best friends in all the world, literary or otherwise.  I feel as though I have found a true bosom friend in her, as Anne of Green Gables would say, and also a looking glass into the future image of who I would happily be. 

Isn’t it amazing who we meet in our most random literary discoveries?