Sunday, August 27, 2006
Rainy and cool
You might as well settle in with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine because this is going to be a looong post.
Friday, I managed to outrun a bad storm returning to CT – there were even tornado warnings in NYC! The clouds were clattering across the sky, visible in the rearview mirror, while I hit the gas to keep in the lighter portion of the sky – it was like something out of a fantasy novel. Made it back to CT. Power flickered, but did not go out, and I had a good day of reading and writing and thinking – very good refueling.
I reworked the last scene of Julia’s Legacy, and now I feel that I can say that the first draft is finished. It has to go into the typing queue and then rest for a few weeks before revisions. There’s a good deal of work still to do, but now, at least, I have something from which to work.
The last few days I read a brilliant book that writers must read, called Letters to a Fiction Writer edited by Frederick Busch. I jotted down so many quotes that I’m going to put it together as an article over on Biblio Paradise in the next few days.
Two important quotes:
Richard Bausch: “. . .the indulgences are what you give up to write.” (p. 24)
Charles Baxter: “If you can give up your life for your country, why shouldn’t you give it up for poetry?” (p. 35).
I roughed out some article ideas that I need to work on in the coming weeks.
I thought a lot about a PBS documentary I watched recently on PBS. I missed the beginning, so I don’t know what it was titled, but it focused on the relationship between Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan and how Kazan’s naming names during the McCarthy era hurt their friendship, but forced both into periods of deep creativity.
I was fortunate enough to work with Arthur Miller at Manhattan Theatre Club, years ago. In fact, I got to work with my two theatre gods, Arthur Miller and Athol Fugard, within the same six months. Miller snooped in my bags (which pissed me off) and found a story I worked on, and read it. He believed I should quit the theatre because I was never going to be a full-time writer until I gave it all up to be a full-time writer. And he believed I was good enough to do so. I told him that was flattering, but I also liked to eat. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I quit theatre then and tried to write full time. I wasn’t formed enough. I think the life experiences I’ve had since I met Miller is part of what makes me the writer I am now.
I’ve always loathed Kazan for naming names – I believe it’s inexcusable. And, of course, having known and worked with Miller, having the chance to talk with him about a wide variety of topics in the weeks we worked together, that loathing strengthened. Let me make it clear: Miller did not loathe Kazan – they were very fond of each other. But Miller had extremely high ethical standards, both for himself (which he admitted to falling short of, but always tried to reach) and others. One of the reasons we got along so well is that we had (and I hope I still have) similar requirements for loyalty.
I feel Kazan did some wonderful work (Streetcar, On the Waterfront), yet I do not believe it justifies the fact he destroyed people’s lives in order to save his own skin. Here’s a man who, literally, destroyed people – made sure they were unable to earn a living, took their lives away from them in a way that some committed suicide – yet he created works of social and moral outrage. The documentary makers felt this showed his was “complicated”. I feel it showed truly what a hypocrite he was.
I think those artists in the early part of the 20th Century who joined the Communist Party here in the US were naïve. They wanted social change, and rightly so, but they were unable to see that, no matter what “principles” party doctrine claimed, all one had to do was look at the countries run under Communist rule and see how it was still another way to separate a certain group of people and put them in charge, sucking wealth and life out of everyone below them, just called something else.
Most of the artists with any intelligence at all were, eventually, able to see the reality of that, and left the Communist Party (Kazan left after something similar to an “intervention” where he was put on a “mock trial” – I can see how disgusted that would make him. I would have flown into a rabid rage).
It still did not give him the right to destroy people’s lives the way he did.
But it was interesting to see the documentary and view the justifications for it. I understand them – I do not agree with them.
And I believe, especially under the Bush administration, that we are moving towards another time of blacklisting. Again, under the false guise of “patriotism”.
Patriotism is believing in your country, standing up for it, and reminding your elected officials – who, I might add are your EMPLOYEES – the principles on which the country was founded. And that often means profound disagreement.
Which brings me to PEN. I am now a member of PEN. Not a full voting member, just an associate. I’m still expecting the letter saying, “You poseur – who do you think you are, becoming part of PEN?” because I will never write a Rushdie-esque or an Atwood-esque novel. Nor do I want to. I will write what I want and need to write – which is why I was drawn to PEN, which works on an international platform to protect writers’ right to speak their truths. Rushdie and Atwood definitely influenced my decision to join PEN – their interviews and commitment to human rights/writers’ rights around the world. If writers don’t have the right to speak/write freely, human rights go down the toilet quickly, because the writer bears witness to the injustice performed by mere government officials – who, in my opinion, do not EVER have the right to censor writers. Writers are there to provoke thought and debate and point out injustice. Governments do not have the right to suppress that, although most must do so in order to ensure their own survival. Because if people recognized the truths, there would be many more revolutions than there are already.
I don’t give a damn about “celebrity” or hanging out with “celebrities”. I’ve spent my entire working life with them and I see how that label poisons the soul. What I do have is a set of writing skills – I am able to construct persuasive letters with strong, researched arguments and back-up. Those skills can be of use in PEN’s mission. That is why I – reluctantly – joined PEN. It is the organization where I believe that my skills can best work to help writers on a global level.
It’s the next step from making my own little patch of the earth the best it can be. Without drawing attention to myself. But speaking as a member of an organization committed to writers’ rights, which, on a larger scale, reflect human rights.
The first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches this week. I was saddened to find out that La Madeleine, one of my favorite restaurants just off Jackson Square, never reopened. And I’m horrified at how little has been done. Bush shrugs and says, “Well, we gave ‘em X billions of dollars.”
But they did not give it to “them”. The money has not reached the people, many of whom still do not have electricity or running water ONE YEAR later. The money was handed to agencies and companies who are sitting on it and not giving it to the people who need it. Even the local government is expected to fork out cash up front and then the agencies will decide how much they should be reimbursed.
That’s not giving them aid. It’s yet another political maneuver so that Bush can yap to the ignorant that he’s given aid while making sure his rich cronies sit on the actual cash and profit from it.
And now, Hurricane Ernesto has the Gulf Coast in its sights. And you know what? The government agencies have admitted that the levees probably can’t hold up if the storm hits.
In other words, the area is in worse shape that it was before Katrina hit, while Bush’s fat cat friends have gotten fatter on OUR money that was supposed to rebuild the area.
If you actually give a flying fuck about the Gulf region, start pressuring your senators and representatives about that money. Because one day, you could be the one drowning in a flood, and you better hope Bush isn’t the one in charge of the “relief” effort, or you’re going to die.
On a happier note, I re-read the 11 chapters of Shalid that are typed. I took notes, began my cheat sheets, charted through lines that need to happen through several books, searched for patterns in theme and story that need to be developed.
I’m having a tough time getting back to Real. I managed a few pages over the last few days. I’m thinking, mulling, percolating. The new plot twist deepens the book, but now I have to readjust everything around it.
In general, I need to go deeper in my revisions. I need to explore the layers of desires and demons, then cut it so it’s presented as succinctly as possible. I feel that much of my writing lately has been too glib, too surface. What’s behind it?
I made notes for something that might be a set of interlocking stories. I have characters, but I don’t know how they fit together.
Also made notes on something I’ve had percolating for years. A mix of Elizabethan theatre and my disagreement with Virginia Woolf’s assessment of “Shakespeare’s Sister.” I’m not sure if it will be magical realism, or, if to do what I want to do, I’ll need to create an alternate reality. After five or six years of false starts, I feel I finally have a handle on it, but it needs to percolate more.
One of my editors had a question on the article sent out Friday – dealt with that.
Was frustrated when I got a catalogue yesterday and saw that, not only have they put the wrong name in the catalogue copy, but they didn’t even spell that right! Breaks the contract.
I’ve had problems with carelessness on the part of this company before, and I have to seriously consider that maybe I no longer wish to write for them. Anyone can make an occasional mistake, but this is every time I work for them – whether it’s something rearranged in the text that makes it inaccurate, or a wrong name or a misspelling – I’m hitting a place where I don’t think the money is enough to justify the frustration. The money’s okay and steady – but not enough. So, perhaps, it’s time for me to move on from this particular company.
Lots of internal work these past few days. Now it’s time to translate that into words on the page.