Friday, April 27, 2012

X Factors and Readers

(24th post on mythic moments for the A-Z Challenge)

Many readers have very clear ideas on what they want out of a book. A YA dystopia with a bit of romance. A crime novel with a tough, jaded protagonist. A romance set in the Renaissance. An epic in which the good guy wins. A book with a lot of buzz. Any book on the craft of writing. Or the history of rock and roll. Or the redemptive qualities of dogs. A little knowledge of keyword searches, a glance at the reviews, and one can do quite well with this approach, only tumbling into occasional disappointment.

I get myself into trouble because I tend to like things that are less tangible. Things that cannot be found easily with an Amazon search or summary review. I seek out books that have 'x factors,' books that do something (extraordinary) that no other book does. (I realize this is partly an attempt to mythologize my own tastes, but I think there's a deeper point, and I needed a topic that began with X.)

In this view, it's the strangeness that sticks with us. The work that does something unexpected, and in doing so does not deceive the reader/viewer but instead makes them feel slightly elevated, slightly expanded, as if their creative worlds are now just a bit larger. Works that make us go, 'Huh, I hadn't quite realized that was possible.' It's hard to order that up, but we all need quests.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Water, Water, Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

(23rd post in the A-Z Challenge)
(Post title is adapted from Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner")

Gustave Doré's The Albatross, also inspired by the Coleridge poem.

We're flooded with information. We're flooded with stories. Flooded with revolutionary products that fade with little more than a whimper.

The number of books grows as our number of hours decreases. Yet we still fear that with all that's out there, we won't find what we want or need or hope for. The old guideposts have grown useless with graffiti. We all have to learn to be navigators. We've killed the protecting albatross, and now comes the storm.

It's hard to be heard. It's also hard to hear. They promise salvation via algorithms, but that always seems like a bit of a Trojan Horse. Beware of gifts: they mean that you're the product being sold.

But we find familiar whispers. We find guides among the beggars (the blogger is a verbose panhandler, a street musician of a different sort).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vivid Dreams and Valiant Visions

(22nd post in the A-Z challenge)

T'oros Roslin - Joseph's Dream

Dreams have a bad rap in fiction. They're often used clumsily: to provide false tension, to deliver dull exposition, to expose predictable vulnerability, to fling out coded symbolism. The dreams of others easily bore us, fictional characters included.

And yet...

The messages in dreams once moved the world (and our stories). Dreams converted Constantine. Dream interpretation elevated Joseph. Dreams (sent by Zeus) convinced Agamemnon to attack without Achilles. Dreams had power. Dreams drove destiny. Thus they were also fraught with danger. Homer describes Agamemnon upon waking:
With that the dream departed, leaving him there
his heart racing with hopes that would not come to pass.
He thought he would take the city of Priam then,
that very day, the fool.
We can see the negative sting that accompanies the word "dreamer" even back then. What good are uncertain visions? What good are fantastical insights? Not to mention that things like anxiety dreams and nightmares just seem flat-out cruel. So we've dialed down the dreaming and relegated it into that convenient box marked 'brain housekeeping.'

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Undone (Or: Valleys of the Blind)

(21th post on mythic moments for the A-Z Challenge)
I had not thought death had undone so many.
It's one of the most haunting lines from both The Wasteland and Dante's Commedia. I've become a bit undone myself: not with death but with a nasty red eye that aches and limits my screen time. I must have jinxed myself with my post on rest, though this was not what I had in mind. Or perhaps my post quoting Akhmatova:
Already madness trails its wing
Decisively across my mind;
I drink its fiery wine and sink
Into the valley of the blind.
On the plus side, I'm halfway to Homer, for at least a day or two. Borges also lost his sight (though in old age). Oedipus is less inspiring. I don't expect anything so drastic, but there's something comforting in thinking about far great minds who suffered through far more. (And who am I kidding: I always find comfort in thinking about Homer, Borges and Akhmatova -- ever-deep wells of inspiration.)

I'm not bowing out of the challenge, but the posts might be a little shorter.


What are your best tips for handling poor health (in the context of creative endeavors)? 

Other greats with less-than-great eyesight?


Monday, April 23, 2012

Time, Training, Talents and Terriers

(20th post on mythic moments for the A-Z Challenge)

A Trio of Tiny Thoughts with a 'T' Theme 


Time is a trickster, always changing, never moving at the pace we want it to. It's not on our side, but it's not against us either. Time is indifferent-enough. That we age is not so bad. That we waste it seems worse.

They say we never get back lost time, but that's not really the point. We can make the moments-to-come matter more. Redemption through extension. With our stories, we reclaim this lost time. With each new idea, we expand our future time. And with each act of creative kindness, we elevate the present time.



When I was about 10, we moved into a house in which the previous tenant had been a bit crazy. One of her delusions was that Stephen King was hovering over the house, in some supernatural form, stealing ideas from her telepathically (and then using these stolen ideas to make millions). There were even rumors that she actually tried to sue him for this, but I've never corroborated them. Print the legend and all...

This morning, agent Rachelle Gardner had a post Train Your Muse Like You Train Your Puppy, which hit a few of my major buzzwords and thus drew my eye. Since the Department of Justice has recently proven that everyone in the publishing industry huddles in cabals to devise devious strategies of exploitation, I conclude that this super agent learned the hovering-brain-sucking trick from Mr. King and then used it to steal my ideas.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


(19th post on mythic moments for the A-Z Challenge)

I quoted Leonard Cohen's "The Stranger Song" earlier this week, perhaps unconsciously priming myself for this post. (It's not only a great song, it also played a major role in McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the great Altman film.)

Strangers. They populate our stories. Populate our lives. Populate our imaginations.

Odysseus spent much of his life as a stranger. The Odyssey captures both the joys and psychological dislocations of being a stranger. The joy of new communities and connections. The reminder that even those we know can become strangers. There are days when only the dog seems to remember who we are.

We need not go far to find strangers. Just this weeked a neighbor was throwing rocks at a friendly neighborhood dog. Another neighbor, with a pistol on his belt, threatened to shoot the dog in the owner's presence if it escaped again. Strangers, to me.

In fairness to them, so is the husky's owner who seemed to think a three-foot chain-link fence could keep in adult huskies. I wouldn't trust the fence to keep in the blog mascot, a 20-pound rat terrier who prefers to be inside. ("Good fences make good neighbors.") The one who's not a stranger in this situation is the dog, an immediate friend to all who offer the slightest attention.
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