Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Random Thoughts

Today I realized that I have a system for eating M&Ms. I eat them in a particular order: orange, green, red, and yellow. And once I'm down to the blue and brown ones, I eat them in pairs of blue and brown. Because I like the color combination. They look nice together.

I've always been of the "save the best for last" camp. I used to eat the cookie part of the Twix first and save the caramel until later. I eat around the outside of a sandwich first to preserve the crustless middle. I eat my vegetables first on any given plate of food.

It didn't occur to me that not everyone thinks this way until today, as I was downing two little bags of M&Ms in the presence of others.

Also, most of the pictures on my phone are of cats. Do I have a cat? No. Figure that one out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Reason to Love Revision

I have this love-hate relationship with revising. The hate comes in when I first get feedback and I just sit around and ruminate for a day or so. (Side note: isn't ruminate a great word? It reminds me of cows.) Anyway, when I'm sitting there staring at the work I've done and thinking about how I should just tear a certain section out and write it over again, that's when I'm not such a fan of the revising process.

I feel like people who don't write or who aren't exposed to the insanity of writers don't quite get this, so let me put it in terms everyone can understand: how would you feel if I told you to tear off your arm and get to work growing a new one? Not so good, yes? Well, it's not quite that dramatic, but basically you sit there and think: "How the hell am I supposed to grow a new arm?! WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE FIRST ONE?!"

After I have formulated a plan as to how I will sprout a new limb, the love starts. I don't just like revising because it makes the work better, although that is the primary reason. Actually, that's not even what's on my mind most of the time, because I have a hard time looking that far ahead. I also get confused when people say the best thing about writing is having written, because for me the best part is the...writing part.

Mostly I like it because it's like a game. Someone tells you a problem with your work, and you have to sit there and figure out a way to fix it. It's kind of like someone giving you a starting point and a destination and you have to figure out the shortest, most efficient way of getting from point A to point B. Maximum impact with minimum damage. All the different places your story could go and your characters could go have to unfold in front of you and then you have to force yourself to think of other options. If life were like this, we could go anywhere.

But of course, we don't. We pick what we pick because we are what we are. That's the tricky part. You have to ask yourself: "If I want Jimmy to end up sacrificing a goat at the end of this story...given that Jimmy is a shy, mild-mannered fellow, how on earth do I get him to the goat stage while still being true to his character?"

No note, no goat.

(Did I mention George Saunders is coming here in the winter? Yesss.)

I like having nine different versions of the story. I enjoy reading the old ones over again once I've made drastic changes, and knowing that there's more to it than anyone will ever know. I pity the person who tries to find something in my files, though, because it's full of word documents with code names like: ER4. HB2. L3. WCTE. Like I'm planning a flipping sneak attack on the US government.

I'm not.

Promise.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Next Stop: Super Glue

Part One

I spent a few hours yesterday researching hagiographies, which is a really fancy religion word for "biographies of saints." As it turns out, this is harder than I thought it would be, because I foolishly assumed that someone had translated hagiographies into English from Latin. I don't know why I thought hagiographies would just be laying around the school library, but maybe it's because that place is a huge pit of books. Too bad the only thing it's good for is getting you lost and confused and possibly trapped between two walls of encyclopedias.

If you think I'm exaggerating, look at Northwestern's library:



Yeah. What IS that? Every time you look up a book, you also have to check to see which pod it's in and what level it's on. And let's say you need four books of different genres. Well, good luck, buddy, because it's going to be a long day of walking and peering and staring and getting shushed by stressed out grad students.

Anyway, my attempts at research were basically fruitless, except I learned that hagiographies mimic Arthurian legends, because the people writing them wanted to make saints seem more like heroes than boring, stuffy monks. This is good news, though, because Arthurian legends are quests for the unattainable (IE- the grail) that involve a lot of physical struggles, and hagiographies incorporate a kind of spiritual quest for the unattainable with a lot of spiritual struggles. Woo!

Damn, my tea is cold. Anyway.

The reason this is good news, and the reason I'm talking about this in the first place is not just because I'm procrastinating and I don't want to read this essay about Huck Finn. It's because last year, when I still had delusions of grandeur about what senior year was going to be like, I decided I wanted to structure my senior thesis (read: another novella, continuing the last one) as a hagiography, and I've been stuck on what exactly the plot of this thing is going to be until I realized this nerdy thing about hagiographies/Arthurian legends.

AND SO, because I have set up this character with a physical difficulty (heart condition), an emotional difficulty (no mother), and a spiritual difficulty ("...Legalism? Or grace?"), this plan to structure the story like a hagiography is actually going to WORK, which is always comforting to me.

So basically, prepare for a series of posts featuring Novella 2 and references to hagiographies, which is a pretty funny sounding word. I realize it more and more as I say it more and more. Hagiography. HAG...iography. Hagio-graphy.

Part Two

Almost every day, my lit professor (who used to be my writing professor) walks into the classroom and tells us about something she read or something she saw on the news that somehow relates to what we're doing that day, or at least that's interesting enough to share with thirty tired college students. It's always hilarious and it's always fascinating. Did you know that they have to bundle up at-risk infants to keep their arms from flailing, because they'll be afraid of their arms, because they don't know that their arms belong to them? Okay, not hilarious, but interesting, right?

A little hilarious? No?

I think what I really like about this is that she continually reminds me that there's stuff in the world worth knowing apart from what you learn in a classroom. That sounds really simple and obvious, but to someone who spends all her time staring at religious texts written a thousand years ago and writing papers and then zoning out at a television (...me), it bears repeating. The world is a huge and fascinating place, full of interesting and crazy and ridiculous and beautiful things, and I'd probably be a better writer if I noticed more of them.

So I have decided to pay closer attention to all things not school-related, and write them down in that moleskine I have, which, by the way, is IMPERVIOUS TO ALL GLUE, because the stuff I glued to the cover keeps falling off no matter how much rubber cement I use. Next stop: super glue.

Have I mentioned that I can see the metra trains arriving and leaving from my apartment window, and that their shiny side panels reflect this purple-blue light at night? Very cool.

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