At my request for a book that would make me forget about losing touch with the family that I have recently followed through three books and several generations (the trilogy, alas, is over), my father suggested that I read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine.  Fine. (The Dubliners, I promise, is on the list too.)

I almost always skip introductions because, in my experience, they are not very interesting.  To be fair, of course, I’m not really one to judge, since my experience with them pretty much ended in middle school when I decided to skip them.  In any event, for whatever reason, I read the introduction of Dandelion Wine.  It probably caught my eye because it was short and began with a refreshingly unpretentious and unlofty sentence.  “This book, like most of my books and stories, was a surprise.” 

What I found in Bradbury’s introduction made me reject my middle school resolution that I should just skip to the “good stuff.”   I actually related to him.  I to BradburyWriter to Writer.  Now, that’s not to be interpreted as an equation, but still…  I understood what he was talking about, and it reminded me of J-Term, so I’ve decided to share:

I began to learn the nature of such surprises, thank God, when I was fairly young as a writer.  Before that, like every beginner, I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence.  Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes it’s eyes on eternity, and dies.

That was the first paragraph.  Beautifully written, and a sentiment that I whole-heartedly understand.  Write when you have to.  Keep reading…

It was with great relief, then, that in my early twenties I floundered into a word-association process in which I simply got out of bed each morning, walked to my desk, and put down any word or series of words that happened along in my head.

I would then take arms against the word, or for it, and bring on an assortment of characters to weigh the word and show me its meaning in my own life… I would have to work this way for the rest of my life.

This reminded me of some of the exercises that we did.  It even qualifies as creative nonfiction.  Some more sentences:

Somehow I had to send myself back, with words as catalysts, to open the memories out and see what they had to offer.

Along the way I came upon and collided, through word-association, with old and true friendships.

I came on the old and best ways of writing through ignorance and experiment and was startled when truths lept out of bushes like quail before gunshot.  I blundered into creativity as blindly as any child learning to walk and see. 

This reminded me of the quotes BG put up on the board about what it means to be a writer…

And, after all, isn’t that what life is all about, the ability to go around back and come up inside other people’s heads to look out at the damned fool miracle and say: oh, so that’s how you see it!? Well, now, I must remember that.

Is it?  I think I disagree with this one.  Certainly, that is an aspect of life.  “What life is all about,” though, must include how you truly see through YOUR eyes as well, no?

And the introduction ends:

Why and how?

Because I say it is so.

Ray Bradbury wrote this in the summer of 1974.  I encourage you to find the whole text.  I can’t vouche for the whole book yet, as I have not finished it, but, judging from just this, it’s worth a read.

What have I missed over the years?

The Learning Adventure

 

The first day of class, you warned us. “If you won’t be intense about writing, this isn’t where you belong,” you said. I elected to stay, mostly because I needed the college writing credit. You seemed like an interesting teacher, if a bit crazy. I showed up on the second day.

I’ve thought you were less and less crazy with each passing day and, frankly, I don’t think it’s because you’ve been changing – I think that I have. “Writing is my life,” you said. Well, conveniently, I myself didn’t have much else to focus on during J-Term: no other classes, and few scheduled extra-curricular activities. So what did writing become? Really quite a large part of my life. The change was most clear as I was writing my braided essay. There’s a hefty thread in the essay itself devoted to other people’s reactions when they read a draft or when they heard that I was writing an essay on hurricanes. I guess I must have talked about it a lot, left it around a lot, thought about it a lot. The piece morphed from my homework into something that had significant bearing on my life. Weird. “Cut these words and they shall bleed,” I quote. I tell my friend from down the hall about the author who wrote an entire novel manuscript and threw the first draft away. I actually played a writing game on a Friday night. Yeah, that’s right.

I’ve noticed that the phrase “sweat blood and tears” also comes up with relative frequency in class. I didn’t really understand that one, either. When I’m done with a piece, paper, whatever, it’s always been done. I edit for content, to an extent, and for grammar. First drafts had always meant almost done. In this class, it was not to be. I began to understand your oft-used phrase. Again, I’ll use the braided essay as an example, since it became my final project. My first draft is barely recognizable as a precursor to the final. I physically cut the piece three times. I color coded. I rearranged. I asked for advice. I followed the advice, mostly. The following advice part is especially a leap forward for me – I usually hate asking people to edit my work, because then I have to change it. Changing things means cutting parts that may have taken considerable effort. It also means more work. In my past, I have been enamored of neither of these prospects that come with change.

On the last night with my final project, a friend suggested that the italicized song lyrics and book quotes at the end of some of the passages threw her off. They’d been there from the very first draft. I had looked up the songs and the quotes online and read about their histories. I had patted myself on the back for a brilliant idea and left my italics alone to fester, without giving them a second thought. I loved them, but I cut them. The piece is better without them, I just needed someone else’s eye to see that. That was my blood, sweat, and tears. So now I’m using your phrase.

“We’re going to share what we write with the world,” you say. I’ve had particular difficulty with this one. First, there was the issue of the “glorious failures.” Why would anyone want to share pieces on which they failed? Why? Well, I did anyway, because I was supposed to and since I didn’t feel so bad about the failures when there were pieces that I actually liked already filling out the blog. And I found that you’re right (which I’m sure you already knew). Someone left a comment on the “Glorious Failures” page explaining what he liked about some of the pieces. He helped me to see them in a new way. Someone else applauded my bravery (though I’m not sure that that is actually what it was). I am emboldened. I am not frustrated by failing. Well – not much, anyway. I learn from it, and I’ve seen the value of letting other people help me learn.

Beyond the problem of putting failures online, I am quite reluctant to do anything I care about online because my parents always have been. I’ve been warned since I was little that “online” is dangerous, and that people online shouldn’t know my business. By posting, I have started to get over that. I took baby steps. First, I just posted assignments. Then, I began to write little introductions to the pieces that I posted. Finally, I actually wrote posts. I became more comfortable with sharing myself online. My parents were displeased. We had several discussions/arguments about it. I tried to explain why it was important. The best way to learn is to teach.

“You must write about what you have to write about.” My multimedia piece was about second chances. My braided essay was about my place in my family and how I feel about it. Both topics mattered to me, but I chose to bring my braided essay to a more final form because I found it more compelling. I had thought about the my place in the family before. I had come to a conclusion, promptly changed it, and decided on another, changed… It called for writing. It wasn’t always easy – I care too much for it to have been easy. Still, I’m a better person for having written it. Done, it seems like a first chapter.

I have so many new choices for the second chapter: image, text, and sound, and all or any combination. I’m no longer fettered by words.

I understand better how media and text work together, and I have learned, mechanically, how to put them together.

Spring semester will start right after break, and I’ll be terribly, unhealthily busy like everyone else. Still, I think that I’ve taken several lessons from this class that I will actually use on an everyday basis. Truly. The most important is attention. I notice more about what’s going on around me now. I’m not sure how that started – perhaps just because you said it should. I did stranger studies, and I began to notice people. When we started to put image and words together, I began to write sentences in my head for images that I saw as I was walking around campus. I noticed the curve of a hand, the color of a bedspread in a way that I hadn’t before. I don’t think that it would be possible to turn off the ability to see what is around me. Even if I can’t find the time to sit down and write every day, I’ll still be noticing my world.

And last — “I hate grades.” Barbara, I understand that comment now, too! More than a distraction, grades seem actually to devalue what I learned and did in class. [Barbara’s email has the actual grade I assigned.] It makes me feel a little dirty, actually, to be assigning a grade to all this. I see your conundrum. As you know, I talk a lot in class. Really, I talk quite a bit in every class, not just yours. Mostly, though, I think of something to say because I know I should be speaking. That was not the case this J-term. I legitimately had something that I wanted to share or to which I wanted to respond when I spoke in class, which was often. For a two hour class that has absolutely nothing to do with my major, I’d say it was a wild success. It was a success anyway.

For my final project, I think I’ll take my braided essay and expand it considerably. There’s quite a lot going on: who I am and who I want to be and why I think either one of those things, and who I live with and who I care about and whether I actually understand anything at all. Whew. And right now it’s three pages, and half of that stuff doesn’t actually come across. I’ll make the peephole into my life into a window, and I’ll jump over a huge hurdle and start to talk about myself for ME, not just myself in the context of the way in which I fit into the rest of my family.

The hundred-word, 5-minute version: Yeah, right. (That’s two.)

Am I truly what they tell me I am? The calm one? Do I want to be what they tell me I am? And if I think that I am, am I happy with that? Do I like myself? What can I do to like myself? How do I even begin to understand what’s really me and what I’m supposed to be and what’s just a little bit fake? Is a little bit fake okay but a lot fake not really? And if I pretend to be someone that I’m not really, well, that’s me as well, right, because it’s IN me to pretend and so if I’m doing it, well, it must be me. People can only ever be themselves. I think. But does that mean that people can’t change if they’re unhappy?

Looks like I need to sort through quite a bit of stuff.

So it has to be authentic — something that I would actually want. The time it took me to actually figure out what I want makes me realize that I don’t really want much… A whole other story.

WANTED: Dance partner, American ballroom, near Middlebury, with transportation, dreamer.

Art

Music: Life in the Fast Lane, The Eagles

WANTED: A The Way Things Work book, a map, and a book of random coupons.

Art

Music: Island in the Sun, Weezer

I’ve scrupulously been keeping the I’m-not-so-proud-of-them class exercises tucked away in my notebook.  I’ve decided that you know me well enough and that my blog is filled out well enough that I can post them, so I’ve created a new page, “Glorious Failures?” Please feel free to comment, I’ll take it like a writer!

I’ve been learning quite a lot about writers in general, and not just about myself as a writer.

To tell the truth, though I love to read, I’ve hated English class since the beginning of high school. Why? Well, to a large extent, because I equate English teachers in my head to failed psychologists (and give me a break, I’m trying to be honest here, not tactful). “What do you suppose the character is feeling during this time?” “If this were to happen, how would the characters respond?” My feeling has always been that whatever event we’re talking about DIDN’T happen. We should be paying attention to the book instead of psychoanalyzing the characters. I still feel that way, actually. My distaste for English classes, however, went further: I’ve always felt that we are reading things into the writing that are not actually there. In some cases, I’m sure that we do (“She’s wearing a green dress! The hidden meaning MUST be that she’s jealous!!”). I’m starting to be convinced, however, that much more is intentional in a piece than I originally assumed. BG keeps telling us that we need to be purposeful. She says that our finished pieces should have exactly the number of words that are necessary — not one more or one less. Especially for the multimedia writing, everything that we choose to include we must choose for a reason. Maybe it’s worth it to examine every letter in a story, after all. Maybe each word was put there intentionally and for a specific reason. I just always assumed that because I did not write that way, no one did. Silly me.

~

Transitioning to the piece at hand now (multimedia): I’m thinking that the topic will be dance, and I’d like to give myself a challenge. Can I write something that makes the reader/viewer feel movement without any video feed? I’m not sure — guess I’ll try for a while and find out.

Today we really started discovering how writing, sound, and image can be combined to make a product that is larger than the sum of any of its components. The goal, always, is to find media that work together to create something, not just reiterative media. For the exercise below, BG played 14 pieces of music and we wrote sentences that “inhabited” that music. This exercise followed one in which we moved in a way that inhabited the music. It was interesting, in both exercises, how similar different students’ interpretations were. Lots of nature and sex imagery for the piano and Latin music, respectively. when we were moving, the majority of us were ballerinas for the classical music and did some wiggly hip variations for the Latin stuff.

When BG posts the music that she played to inspire these sentences on the J-term writing blog, I’ll put a link HERE.

1. I’ve wanted it more than anything for so long — and I’ve finally begun to really try for it.

2. It was one of those rare days when you walk through the entire thing as though you owned the world.

3. I can think of things for and against everything.

4. The day I forgot to take a shower was when it all began.

5. He made a discovery and was only just beginning to understand its fantastic implications.

6. Who told you that humans can’t fly? let me show you. It’s like this, and then like this…

7. It seemed his body was not tied to the ground anymore, and they loved it.

8. I was backed into a corner, without knowing how I had gotten there, and I began to despair.

9. There was a malfunction in his power point presentation, which made class much more interesting.

10. Sometimes the little guys can sneak by, unnoticed.

11. All I really felt like doing was sitting and singing to myself — I wished the world were far away.

12. It was hot and sticky, and everyone was flirting and having a marvelous time.

13. The beast was huge and relentlessly walking toward me, but I saw something that looked like it might be good in his eye.

14. I can’t decide who I really want to be, but i think I have the gist of it.