Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Autobiographical Views Out the Window: Insights into 13 Miles

It's a funny thing. Teachers of writing and writers who dispense lazy advice always say write what you know. This advice is somehow going to make the task of writing less daunting, less difficult or at the very least, easy to start the process. This 'write what you know' is supposed to be a comfort. I don't know about you, but I know what I know and I find it to be boring. In fact, why would I spend my days doing those thing in which I know only to retire to my writing desk at night to write about it? Seems pretty stupid to me. I would choose to write about those things that I don't know in hopes of discovering something new or enjoying a pleasant diversion from life as I know it. Write about what you don't know, I hear this as advice occasionally, and boy is it refreshing. But the truth remains, writers more often than not stay right where they are and they write about those familiar things.

And I'm no different. I way too often write about what I know. I know a lot about late nights with black coffee, cigarettes and conversations with strangers. I know about missed connections, brief love affairs with those who have a different mother tongue. I know about being lost in the desert highways and hearts. I know about the quiet morning after when the rock 'n' roll has faded and life must begin. I know about alienation of artists in the post consumer world. I know about the wake of destruction where we live in hovels and mansions and they are the same thing. I know about the kiss that never comes and the cracked lips waiting for soothing relief. I know the merits and the evils of gin.

The next small facet is what's out the window. The views a writer sees color the words on the page too. For me, I see cars and factories and fat people. I see a world that has fallen into disrepair. I see citizens of this world fallen into disrepair. I don't have a very high opinion of modern life, and the highly neglected world we've developed. And I certainly don't have a very high opinion of other people. I'm still idealistic and believe in the opposable thumb and human intellect to be our saving grace. But as close as I can tell the height of human civilization has come and gone and what's left is what I see outside my windows. Neglect.

And the autobiographic sketch is this: Anthony was born, lives and writes. He writes love stories. Love stories, that's right. I don't see why not. As far as the autobiography inside everything I write, it is there. It's not blatant, and it may not be recognizable. All writers do this. Many of us will write ourselves directly into the story. The writer and the narrator are one, and that one is interacting with the fictional characters of the story. Yeah, I think that's pretty common. It's also common that the writer will have a specific character who is the writer's self right on the page.

So, write what you know. Write about the views out the window. On the sly, add in some autobiography. This does not need to be nonfiction, or as it may seem, memoir. This is the act of writing. When alone and writing, the desk is the only thing that matters, it is littered with papers, computers, pens. It is littered with thought, with words and with the future of human letters.

Right now, I know what it's like to be a city dweller. I know what it's like to work in a fancy restaurant serving tables. I know what the conversations are like among white American men who think what they do is so great that they flaunt it amongst themselves and expensive dinners out. I know what it's like to gamble the 20% tip on patrons who have less education than I do, less annual income than I do and less thought than I do. It's an odd dynamic.

I also know what it's like to leave the restaurant and walk the city streets. I don't know what your town is like, but mine is filled with homeless people, meth addicts and street urchins. It may be the cultural norm in my town to embrace and coddle these types of people, or it may be a sign of the times. Whatever it is, there is a body in every doorway and the discarded drug paraphernalia is a common gutter occurrence. It's a sad state of affairs. If you want to avoid this in your own town, I suggest an increase (rather than a cut) in educational spending and stop at nothing to encourage industry so that people have jobs.

That's my day. It's 2012. Some folks think it's the end; some sort of western-Christian-apocalypse thing bent onto a twisted Mayan cosmovision. Again, don't cut educational spending and encourage industry so people can go to work. Out the window? My views? Who cares?

13 Miles is the sum of my experience as a waiter in a downtown restaurant. It follows the events of a day. It is the long walk, I've used a pedometer to count steps and miles, that is one day of work. In the course of a day, there have been bums and priests and suicides. There have been saints and spray painters. There have been drinks. And moreover, there has been thoughts of love.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Long Live the Vignette

A vignette in literature can be loosely classified as a short literary sketch.  This definition seems simple enough.  More exact, a vignette is just a small composition that may or may not have anything resembling those elements we find in good fiction like character or plot.  In fact, a vignette may not even be fiction at all.  Hopefully the vignette itself, or the designer of a vignette has a skillfully crafted group of words for the reader to enjoy.  Again, this is a hard thing to consider, to define and perhaps harder still for description.

A vignette may be a solo piece or it may be embedded inside a larger work.

A short vignette as an embedded sketch is not a far fetched thing to find.  As a aspect to fiction, such a vignette works as an aside in theater might function.  Not overtly furthering the plot of a story, a vignette functions as development of mood, character or setting.  Chapter 4 of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row is the ideal example for the literary vignette inside a novel.  This chapter, just over two pages is an incidental happening between an old Chinaman and a young boy named Andy.  Everyone in Cannery Row knows of this Chinaman and the Chinaman has an incredible knack for leaving people uneasy.  Andy, a young boy from Salinas, confronts the old man.  What happens is this: the Chinaman and Andy share a supernatural moment where the old man represents death and the young boy, life.  How it functions is not really recognizable.  Reading this short chapter creates a mood, yes, and it is recognizable within the confines of the short as “these are the people of Cannery Row.”  But, this clever little scene really has nothing to do with the overall plot of the story.

Likewise, many scenes within Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun functions the same way.  If you have not read this depiction of survived soldiers of the Great War, please read it on a sunny day.  The whole book is without punctuation.  The whole book is told from the point of view of a quadriplegic, deaf, blind and mute combat soldier.  The vignettes within this novel often go back to the character's childhood in Shale City, Colorado or the Bakery of L.A. before the war.  In a way, these vignettes do further the plot because they oftentimes function as exposition and back story.  However, they go on for several paragraphs and many times they do not include any other character.  They do set the mood, they do illustrate a point.

Julio Cortazar's “The Instruction Manual,” “Unusual Occupations,” and “Unstable Stuff” are collections of vignettes.  These vignettes taken as a whole do progress the reader through a train of thought which may indicate story.  With or without story, these pieces have coherent threads that unite them, but they do not have plot or any sort of recognizable character.  Rather, these vignettes, all very carefully crafted and designed, read like nothing else would.  This is not poetry, this is not fiction, this is not anything other than what it is: a group of vignettes.  Eduardo Galeano's The Book of Embraces, Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, and even Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams are wonderful examples of how beautiful these groups of vignettes can mold a larger cohesive piece of writing that is not traditional fiction with a beginning, a middle and an end.

What happens when we take a single vignette and put it on its own?  Well, we have just that, a small piece of writing.  It's not a short story, and despite what many writers of brief fiction may say, this is not a piece of flash fiction.

Flash fiction versus the literary vignette may be as complicated as the descriptions of each.  Flash fiction is a piece of fiction, a true sovereign short-short story.  A flash fiction piece is generally considered a story with a beginning, a middle and an end complete with character, plot, conflict and resolution executed in less than a set number of words.  Flash fiction is generally less than 2,000 words but often classified as less than 1,000 words.  Flash fiction is still fiction, just brief.  For instance John McManus's “Cades Cove,” Colette's “The Other Wife” tell a story with beginning, middle, end, plot, character, conflict and resolution within the confines of fiction.

Where does that leave the dancing girls?

The Fields of Dancing Girl Heaven for me, happened somewhere in the Portland-Salt Lake City-New Orleans-Denver continuum of 2001.  At this time I was just starting to write.  I wanted to be a writer.  The lack of stability, lack of a place to sleep and a strange level of travel mixed with poverty kept me from crafting any larger pieces of fiction.  At this stage of my writing life, I could only snap small moments to work.  There was no plot.  There were no characters.  There were sentences.  There were scenes.  There were coffee stains on the notebooks.   I learned over this period the worth and valor of the vignette.  They were descriptions or things, or people, or situations.  They were fun to write.  They would take years for me to understand.  It would take even longer for me to build them into fiction.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

When Walls Speak

There were so many things left undone and theater scripts turned television advertisements unwritten because of the rain.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Befuddled Seahorse

When the nymph is full grown, she climbs out of the water. Her skin splits open, and the adult emerges.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Volcanic Shutters, Failed Connections and One Befuddled Seahorse

Here we are. I am here, and you are there. You are far away, or at the very least I am not particularly close. It's already 2012, the world is fixing to end, and everyone knows it. But what if the world has ended before and several times too? What about the abandon? What about the love affair that became what it was going to become? Wrapped in ash as we sleep at the height of Pompeii.

“Pay attention to this,” I said. I stunk of gin. I always stunk of gin. Juliana swung around me. We laughed. It was nearing four in the morning. And the party was in full swing. This was August, after all, Tucson, Arizona, four in the morning is the only time for a party. “We'll be writing about this for years to come,” I said. And to this day, I don't think either of us has mentioned it.

What happens when groups form? The Beats formed. There was Joanie and Edie and Lucien and Jack and William and Allen. The Romantics formed. There was Percy, John, Mary and Byron. There Lost generation formed. There as Scott and Papa and Gertrude. Groups. And they always seem so haphazard until seen from the future.

Then there is the volcano. This is no metaphor, but the eruption has a double meaning. It's no secret. It's pressure and then, boom, pressure relieved.

And then we were far away, you and me. I am here, and you are there. This is possibly a Brautigan riff, but it isn't very clear.

All we really needed to do was to hold onto the drinks and the smokes and the parties and our youths. But even that slipped away. It's all gone, the booze and the cigarettes and youth. And it has come down to this: once when we were young we partied for a cool summer in the heated desert and the end was near. It wasn't 2012 then, but the end was near.

This is not memoir. This is not fiction. This is worlds on a page. This is an operatic soapy thingy on the page. This is minutia. This is parlor tricks. This is one Befuddle Seahorse. Read it here on August 1, 2012.