Tag Archives: vermont

A Grace

So, I’m in Vermont and the snow is falling.  And, I have a little extra time this afternoon to relax, before I need to do some reading and writing and attend another workshop.  Such is the life during a writing residency.

I wanted to post in lieu of emails to let you all know I am still alive.  Perhaps, more alive than I’d like to be, as my brain is drowning in literary and philosophical terms.  Basic ones like structure, detail, character give way to more esoteric terms: negative space, subversion, literary activism.  But, I’m alive and (relatively) sane, so I have that to say.

Plus, a quote by Simone Weil, who was a French mystic:

All feelings are mixed up with their opposites.

For those of you who read this blog and attended by writing workshop, or who read this blog and aspire to write, journal, think, or know yourself, I find this quote incredibly helpful.

From a writing standpoint, writing true characters demands a recognizance of this fact.  No character, however good-or-evil-willed, feels solely one way or another.  As I write a novel about a missionary in Africa, he continues to have mixed (and contradictory) feelings.  He wants to help others; he wants to merely help himself.  He wants to become great friends with his native interpreter; he wants to strike out on his own.  I struggle to write this, as this character is such a mix of feelings and emotions.

It helps to write when I understand that I am such a mix of feelings and emotions.  I can only think of a few feelings where, through discipline or intensity of emotion or simple plain stupidity, I don’t know the opposing emotion (these are easiest to think of regarding my wife).  But mostly, I am a mixture of wanting to please people while not wanting to rely on their opinions, of wanting to sacrificially help someone while wanting to help only myself.

It’s when I realize this and accept it that I’m able to write better characters.  And in some way, live a better life: a more authentic and honest life.  For this is when I’m able to accept grace as the gift that it is, a gift that surrounds me with love and hope.  A gift that lets me think about high and lofty thoughts when the snow is falling in Vermont.

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Five Fun Facts

Well, I’m back from Vermont.  It was a fantastic trip.  Each time I’m back there I get to know the people a little more, and it finally seems like I have real friends, people whom I might talk to even after I graduate.  So, that’s exciting.  

In order for you, too, to feel like you’re in a writing program I thought I’d post a few interesting things I’ve learned over the past week, in no particular order.

1) The first novel written in English is generally attributed to Mrs. Afra Behn, in 1688.  It was written by a white woman, in the New World (Americas), dealing with slavery.  Oh, and it was advertised as a ‘true history’ for all you James Frey haters out there (that includes you, Oprah…there’s a long literary history of calling whatever you write ‘true’ no matter how little of it is actually true…not that this completely excuses Frey, but I digress).  

2) Actually, Jane Eyre was originally published as a ‘true’ account in the first edition.

3) The fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood is a story to warn young maidens about sexuality.  The phrase ‘she has seen the wolf’ is archaic for a woman losing her virginity.  A ‘hood’ was a chaperone, or a madame today.  

4) The Brothers Grimm, who collected fairy tales in early 19th century Germany, originally did not incorporate the ‘evil stepmother.’  The first edition of their tales had evil mothers who tried to kill their children; later editions softened the plot to a stepmother.  

5) In 1665, Elizabeth Foster was born in Massachusetts.  She went on to have 16 children.  Oh, and she married Isaac Goose.  Elizabeth Foster Goose is often seen as the person who inspired “Mother Goose.”

Okay, that’s all.  A few fun facts about novels and fairy tales, since I went to a workshop on each.  

The final thought for today is this: Never hope more than you’re willing to work.  

A little kick in the butt for a writer.

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Vermont and Dipthongs…

Well, I’m in Vermont, trying to absorb all the learning and inspiration I can until next Friday morning. Thus far, the process is going quite well. I have had the opportunity to remember, however, that high humidity in summer is roughly akin to taking a steam bath in jeans and a sweater. Additionally, one of our civilizations greatest achievements is the iPod with video capability, thus making it possible for me to watch episodes of The Office almost anywhere. I love technology.

I’ll try to post more over the next couple of days (no promises) about things I’m actually learning, especially as regards the writing process. For now, I’d like to note that I’ve been in a roughly 3-hour-on-and-off-again conversation about how many syllables different words are. Fire, buoy, boy, and oil have been prime examples. Along with some internet research, we’ve concluded that “boy” and “oil” are dipthongs, and “buoy” is a tripthong — groups of two or three vowels that make one sound. One sound, of course, constituting one syllable (even, technically, in the case of buoy.) My favorite caveat from the internet (and we tried to use reputable, authoritarian sources while determining this syllable problem) is this: ‘standard’ English has no real bearing, since there is no American academy that rules on standard language…thus, a word is one syllable if you pronounce it with one syllable and two if you pronounce it with two. Great, so a word has as many syllables as I give it. Essentially, in America, we are the arbiters of language, and what we say goes.

What a great country.

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