Monday, November 18, 2013

OBSERVE AND RETORT: Tail Wagging for the Neophyte

(NOTE: Here we all are/Sittin’ in a rainbow/Hello Mrs. Jones/How’s your Bert’s lumbago?/I’ll sing you a song,/With no words and no tune/To sing at your party/While you suss out the moon/Lazy Sunday afternoon/I got no mind to worry/I close my eyes and drift away)

Mr. Detroit is back in town after recovering from Rio de Janeiro’s Carnevale last February, when he sustained several samba-related bruises and contusions. Nurses from among the city’s bathing suit models cared for the less-than-limber limbo dancer until he healed enough to travel. He read too much while in bed and not very happily.
“Some clown sent me a stack of new novels and short story collections. Most of them were like going through MFA class assignments, or failed movie scripts with a little description to break the dialogue. I mean, hey, no one with an operating brain can read this junk. Only backrubs from the nurses and the collection of novellas from Jim Harrison, Brown Dog (Grove Atlantic, $27.00), kept me from going nuts. Tell me, hot shot, where does good writing come from?”

LOOK OUTSIDE
Harrison is a master observer, either by birth or application, and his stories, novels, and poetry are born of his unique one-eyed taking in of the world. Writing, like the sciences, comes from observation. Want to learn the phases of the moon? Watch the moon. How about fruit fly reproduction, sound waves, an orchid’s life cycle, turtle migration, or thermodynamics? Watch, read, and take notes. Most phenomena will show its true nature when observed without judgment or bias.

THE NIGHT THE BED FELL
For the writer, the subject is people in all their strange and pleasant forms. James Thurber (1894–1961) preferred staying at home for his material, while his wife, Helen, liked being sociable. One evening she convinced him to go to a party. They greeted their host and went off in different directions to talk to friends. Helen found Thurber an hour or so later by himself in a corner. He watched people talk, eat canapés, drink mid-priced cocktails, and dance when the band played. Helen stalked over to his hiding place and demanded, “When will you stop working?” (In Thurber’s defense, he worked at the New Yorker under constant deadline pressure to pay for his house in Connecticut.)

BURN YOUR SMARTPHONE
Imagination comes from inspiration and information. Anything can happen when you take out the ear buds and stop jabbering. Look at people and watch how they interact with the buildings, roadways, cafes, trees, bodies of water, and each other. Be caught up in social movements; take a stand no matter how odd. Humanity is your subject, otherwise writing becomes just a gathering of sentences to break up a white page.
An auburn haired woman walks down the street wearing a blue jean jacket and red skirt propelled by long, pale legs leads to thoughts of a disorganized French tricolor flag and Eugène Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” Imagination asks: Where is she going? Who will she meet? What will she do? What will be the outcome? Is she humming “La Marseillaise” while she waits for the light at the intersection? The elements can merge in a short story so compelling it would make Anton Chekov envious if he still lived.
At least recycle the ugly, self-involved, cellular brutes.

STATUS FOR THE STATUS-SEEKERS
Everyone wants to be well-loved and well known, and the best book to help you attain both is The Dog Walked Down the Street: An Outspoken Guide for Writers Who Want to Publish (Cypress House, $13.95). In finer restaurants, waving a copy at the maître d’ guarantees preferred seating. Dentists offer free floss for readers of The Dog, and car mechanics are so fond of the book’s classy cover, inspiring pages, and squared corners they will rotate your tires. To enjoy a fuller, happier life, and learn a bunch about writing and publishing, log on to www.indiebound.com for the nearest absolutely cool independent bookstore near you.

NEXT: Marking the Trees



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