Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 35

For the last few days I've felt an immense lassitude whenever I try to work.  It's like the month plus of constant relentless writing has drained my will of the desire to do anything more than sit on the couch and watch stupid television.  I have only a few more problems--none very large--to solve in order to be able to write the first totally 'correct' draft of the play ('correct' meaning everything works, all the storylines are in place, and all the structure is set.  The house is built, but not decorated).  And yet every day it's harder to motivate myself.  Maybe it's that I know I'm going to miss the April 15th deadline, and without that pressure it's a harder to work.  Or maybe I'm just tired.  I don't feel tired.  Maybe I need something new to read, something to inspire me.  Or maybe it's just the weather.  ("There's always a change in the weather.  I thought this time we might get it together....")

The wife left for Washington today.  We always have these fun nights the night before she leaves, and then her absence is even more sad than it would be usually.   The freeway was deserted.  I guess 7 AM on a Sunday is the one time in LA when driving doesn't get you into traffic.  Took twenty minutes to get to LAX from our house in the valley.  On the way we listened to a lecture on "Paradise Lost."  (Because what wakes you up better than that?)  I told my wife how the spring after I'd decided to go to grad school for poetry I'd made myself read "Paradise Lost", thinking that since I was going to study poetry I should have read one of the most famous poems ever written.  Naturally, in the two years I was there, "Paradise Lost" was mentioned exactly once.  Not that I regret having read it (mostly).  It just shows how little I knew what I was getting into.  I should have been reading Lyn Hejinian, or language poets, or Michael Palmer.  People I hadn't heard of, at the time.

A poem that turned out to have a much larger significance in grad school was Wordsworth's "Prelude."  That's really what I should have read.  I should reread that, actually.  It always inspires me.

In the lecture the professor talked about how "Paradise Lost" really marked the end of the Poem as a major vehicle for writers to work in.  It was almost like...poetry was used up.  There was nothing more to be done in the genre (at least as far as storytelling went.  The lyric poem obviously did fine.)  Instead, the novel slowly became the default form for writers wanting to reach a large audience.  So that by the time Joyce came along to write a new, modern epic, he didn't write a poem, he wrote a novel.

He also talked about the 'lyric novel' emerging as a genre at the beginning of the 20th century, citing Woolf's To The Lighthouse and The Waves as examples.  The point being that writers who wanted to write 'poetically' and yet still felt obliged to work in the form of a novel tried to have their wombats and eat them too, as it were, by filling their novels with lyrical, 'poetic' prose.  When I checked my blog today, my friend, the redoubtable Cartooniste, had posted on the exact same subject, noting how 'lyrical prose' has become a kind of coded way of saying that the books may be tedious to read, that the writers may not have cared much about the story or the characters, but, hey, at least the sentences are pretty.  (Well, that's not exactly what she said.  I'm extrapolating.)  Which strikes me as true, for the most part.  I've been burned too many times buying books that promised me lyrical prose.  I don't want lyrical prose, at least not at the expense of every thing else a novel can do.  Anyway, look at Middlemarch.  For me, one of the three best books ever written; no one would ever call that prose lyrical.

It strikes me that maybe my work on the play would go better if I spent less time writing these blog entries. Is creativity like gasoline: you only have a certain amount every day, and once you use it up it's gone?  Or is it like a muscle, that the more you exercise, the stronger it gets?

Or is it like an alligator hunter, who only goes out once a month and has to catch as many gators as he can, without getting eaten?

I've been having luck doing a kind of exercise in which I force myself to write first person accounts of the play's actions from the vantage of all the characters, to help me explore their mental states.  Mostly, it's to help me figure out why they do the things they do.  This is really the fundamental question that fiction and theater apply themselves to answering; why do people do the things they do?  It's a hard question to answer; even when we examine our own actions we often have no real idea what we've done most of the things we've done.  This is essentially the action at the heart of Crime and Punishment.  Raskalnikov kills the old woman for a complex of reasons that he himself can barely understand, and then spends the rest of the novel trying to make sense of what he's done.  Or rather, why he's done it.  And in the end, he really has no idea.

Okay, I really am now using this as an excuse not to work.  I need to figure out now why a character has started flipping coins to make key decisions in her life, where the practice comes from and why she wants it spread.  It has something to do with her mother, I think.  (Actually she doesn't flip coins, she opens a book randomly and uses the page number to tell her what to do, but it's the same thing).  Chaos and structure; they're the fundamental elements.  Art has to have enough chaos to give the illusion of versimilitude but enough structure to allay our fears that life is only chaos.  Its skeleton is a consoling lie, its flesh an unacceptable truth.


Barbara Carlson said...

Making order out of chaos. It's how our brains are structured. The right side receives external/internal chaos, shunts it over to the left which prioritizes.

A friend had a very bad stroke and is aware of both sides -- she even has names for them.
When only the left is working, she is dour with no sense of humour; when only the right is -- she acts stoned.
Her corpus callosum is still waterlogged so the narrow connection is compromised.

The hemispheres are co-dependent. Too much reliance on the creative right and you can lose language formation. Too much on the left and you've got a dull guy with no sense of the absurd. It's a balance.

If you're feeling restless, it's time to fill up
the side that's been underused. Studying your play's structure, inner logic for so long may have ignored the right too much and now it just wants to watch TV to get new stimulus (as you suspect).

Watch Sedaris... have a laugh.

By wondering why your characters come to do certain things... you may be questioning your own reason (need?) for wanting to write it in the first place. Just throwin' that out. I have no idea.

Cartooniste said...

Yes. That is exactly what I meant.

Re: work and deadlines. I finally had to give myself a daily word count assignment. Of course I'd start out each day tinkering with what I'd done the day before (until the deadline really loomed, and then I just plunged ahead like a madwoman), but getting the words down - imperfect, embarrassing, even, but extant - that was what I had to do.

Is it more important that it be perfect, or that it be finished? I opted for the latter. And now I'm getting out the buzzsaw to fix this dreck.