Veronique Darwin

Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Haircuts

In Inspiration, Thoughts on Writing on August 30, 2012 at 11:09 am

I listened to this audio of two girls explaining a haircut (very rational, very cute).

“Everyone does that kind of stuff sometimes. It happens like once, or twice, or three times in every life. Once. Or twice. I mean once.”

I got my hair cut two days ago. It wasn’t dramatic, but I lost an earring on the ground and found it near the end of the haircut, amidst hair balls. I used to only get haircuts if they were dramatic. Now I’m trying to grow out my hair (like a lady) and only cut it for maintenance purposes. This means about every year.

There is something about haircuts that is so weird. What other bodily items (besides hair on legs and faces and elsewhere) do we try and get rid of all the time? Nails. Maybe like ear wax. Dry skin. Gunk on teeth. But hair – we love our hair. And still, we chop it off.

The main character who has been following me around for years has long dark straight hair. This is non-negotiable. Her name is now Jillian and she is the purpose of my novel. She used to have other names; she lived in failed stories. Always with long dark hair. Nothing else mattered. Maybe she didn’t speak as much or as quickly as I did. But mostly she just had long dark hair.

“I can’t imagine her hair long anymore. It’s been so long since I cut it.”

What if I made Jillian get a haircut? How would that change her? I got a hair cut. I’m not undergoing an identity crisis. Jillian would be (or I would be for Jillian).

What would a haircut mean symbolically in my story? I got a haircut. I’m not on a new path in life. Jillian would be. Or I would make her be.

Cutting hair is taking something away. It will grow back, but from the other end. The hair you cut lays there on the floor. All hair, once it’s escaped your scalp, is already dead. It’s just waiting for you to separate yourself from it. But you hang on so long.

I wonder if when I finish Jillian’s novel someone else’s hair will be my focus. Will hair always be my impetus for character? And if character is the driving force behind novels, then will hair always make my novels? I imagine a girl with dreadlocks. A woman with red hair. I imagine someone who has lost their hair – all of it.

We read a story every Christmas, The Gift of the Maji by O. Henry. It’s the story of a haircut, of how a haircut transformed a couple’s life together. So maybe this isn’t so far off.

(from Wikipedia)

Obsessions

In Thoughts on Writing on August 28, 2012 at 9:24 pm

The other day I thought I left the burner on. When a seed gets planted…

I have these moments often, where some thought strikes me and unless I do something about it it will continue to grow until it has become something corrosive. I always picture the worst and then expect it to happen. I know my car will get towed so I go check on it. I know I will forget things so I leave notes everywhere. I check and double check on everything and I am never, ever late.

I am aware of my neuroses, but identifying them hasn’t made them go away. Any sort of attention to them actually eggs them on. I feed them like they are the very soul of me.

Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali (polosgallery.com)

There are fruit flies in the kitchen. For two days I have been trapping them with meticulous attention. Every few minutes I get up to check on my fruit fly trap (a glass of wine I started last night). Though my intention is to exterminate them, I am also trying not to kill any. They feel like my pets.

( Remember when there were these plastic containers you could buy from the pet store and you filled them with water and if you waited long enough for the water to get dirty and bacteria to grow you could have these pets called Sea Monkeys? If you shone a light on them they danced around. What was that? )

Though I get obsessed with things, like fruit flies and potential floods or fires in the house I am driving away from, I also have a very short attention span. These two qualities should be mutually exclusive, but I’ve been able to make the very worst parts of them cohabit. I get obsessed with one thought and then move quickly between that and others.

Luckily, one thing I have a neurosis about is writing. I must do it. If I don’t, I get grumpy. I didn’t fulfill a satisfactory quota no one made. I didn’t do something I was supposed to.

Is that all passions are, a positive channel for the worst parts of ourselves? An outlet for the perfectionist, the ambitious, the obsessive compulsive and the anal retentive?

I like the idea that some trying quality, an obsession that grates on the nerves of our every day lives, can be fuel for something productive. I love that my negatives can be developed into something positive, maybe beautiful.

Getting To One Point and Then Another

In My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on August 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I often reach a point in my book where I think this is it. This is a point.

I announce it to myself and to my friends and family. I say: I reached this point. Then I return to my work after a well-deserved break and I read back before the point and I wonder what I was thinking. There was no point I reached. I just stopped and I called it a point.

Drafts are some points I use. They pat me on the back and allow me to feel I am a whole version ahead of myself a few months ago. Little do my drafts know, I am still me, my book is still the same book; it is just an older version of itself, an older draft, maybe a wiser draft.

That isn’t always a good thing. Like myself, like all of us, drafts have egos. My latest draft – haughty Draft Five – thinks it’s light years ahead of Draft 4. It even spelt out its name in letters. It recognizes that it still has terrible flaws, but it sees itself as simpler, less blah-blah than its predecessor (it used that word: blah-blah). Draft Five actually attacked Draft 4 quite aggressively: it tore out adjectives and adverbs, changed the narrator from first to third person and cut out what it called “superfluous” scenes.

But what Draft Five doesn’t know is that Draft Six will soon exist. I will reach the end of Draft Five (which corresponds with the physical end of the book) and I will proclaim myself done with it. I will drop it somewhere and cease to think about it for a short while. I will show it off to people (its first page will get fingered but never read) and I will probably advertise its existence on here. Then Draft Six will commence and I will forget everything I learnt in Draft Five.

Draft Six will ax this and stomp on that. It will stick its nose up at Draft Five’s choice of this word and this scene and it might even communicate with Draft 4 behind Five’s back. Draft Six will be a new reincarnation of my book, but without learning from Draft Five, will it really be any better?

Michael Ondaatje is said to write a book straight through and then put it in a drawer and write the book again and do this same process over and over until he has written his book nine or ten times. Now, if this is true, then Ondaatje has created a perfect system for himself: every few months he gets to tell people he wrote a book. But does it work?

Do we learn, when we get to one point and then we jump to another, without worrying about the point (or the journey) that came before? Do we become wiser just by writing, and by rewriting?

I hope so, because every time I write a sentence I want to feel like I’ve finished a sentence. Every time I write a chapter, or a draft, I want to feel like I’ve completed something. Writing is hard enough without being hard on ourselves.

So here it goes: I just wrote Part One of Draft Five and it is far superior to anything I have ever written. Take that, wretched Draft 4.

Teaching the Sentence

In Thoughts on Writing on August 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I learned the sentence by reading it. I made the sentence by writing it.

It is incredibly easy and at the same time incredibly difficult to teach someone to write a sentence. Grammar is grammar. Commas aren’t semi-colons. A clause is either independent or it relies on something. Start with something big – a Capital – and end with something tiny. But a sentence, oh a sentence, can be so much. I can’t teach someone what to write. I can only tell them what they can’t.

(from ecotarget.com)

Write one sentence that is true, said Hemingway (said everyone since.) Well, can you even write a fake sentence?

You can not write a sentence. You can write a fragment. You can write a run-on sentence. You can leave blank space or you can choose not to pick up the page at all. I can’t teach you to write a sentence. Sentences come from you.

Sentences come from you. Words come from a dictionary.

I learned the sentence by reading sentences. I read them pieced together into books. I read them in essays. I read them in poems (sometimes they weren’t real). I read them in articles and I read them in school. I read them in French and a few times I read them in Swedish and I didn’t understand them.

I read sentences. I still read sentences.

When I speak I don’t speak in sentences. I speak in ideas. That’s why me speaking is nonsensical. I am a sentence maker, not an idea person. I am a writer. I write sentences.

Nighttime Post To Feel Free

In Thoughts on Writing on August 19, 2012 at 12:19 am

Nighttime writing is like swimming in the dark. It’s like smiling to myself, like waking in a lucid dream.

There are no mistakes in nighttime writing. No guidelines, no guide lights. There is no form to my thoughts because there is no restrictions around them.

I dream so well at night. It only figures I would write so well too.

I know of only one writer whose writing hours are overnight. He wrote a very imaginative book while he should have been dreaming.

Why live during the day, if I feel more creative at night? Would this feeling continue into the deep morning were I to write on it, or is it only a feeling of desperation, a final mining of everything that myself today has to offer?

I care for sleep, but only insomuch as it gives me life to live tomorrow. I like the feeling of rest, and the feeling of dreams, but if I can get those as I’m writing, who needs the thing.

Coffee in the Morning, Coffee in the Afternoon

In Thoughts on Writing on August 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I used to work at a coffee shop (I worked at a coffee shop for three years.) But for most of those three years I wasn’t able to drink coffee. I tried to drink coffee: believe me, it was free.

Those who were able to drink large amount of coffee had really cool opportunities like traveling to Seattle on coffee crawls. If we drank coffee especially well, we were sometimes invited to go to “cuppings,” which were essentially wine tastings but in dark basements and for coffee. But I just couldn’t drink it. It gave me anxiety.

So I told myself I would try detoxing from coffee. I had free herbal tea instead. I went months, maybe six, without drinking it at all. Then I stopped working at the coffee shop, I finished school and I started writing five days a week. I had my first cup of coffee that first day of writing and I haven’t had one bout of anxiety since.

These events may not match up exactly in time as well as I say they do, but looking back from a later point in my life, I believe they will appear to match up. I have matched them up in the following way: Writing needs coffee. School doesn’t.

Recently, I have begun to have one coffee every morning and one every afternoon. The morning coffee, if I’m so lucky to have a morning of writing, helps establish my day. It says: you are going to write this morning. It says, see? Writing can be comfortable. You are in a safe space.

The afternoon coffee is a kick in the pants, a signal that a new shift of writing is beginning. It tells me, you committed to a good chunk of time this afternoon. Make it worth it. Do something. The afternoon coffee is more mean.

Drinking coffee with my schoolwork, however, said other things to me. It got my insides moving, so much so that I would feel overwhelmed by the work I had to do rather than motivated. This is because school is a passive act. Even in its most active moments – writing papers, creating presentations or projects – school is about taking material set up by a teacher and professor and in some way learning that material.

Writing (fiction) is purely active. I am either creating or I am editing my creations. If I’m researching, I’m doing it to loot ideas and use them for my own purposes and with my own unique way of looking at them. I owe nothing to anybody. I owe everything to nobody.

Writing needs coffee to get me moving. School couldn’t use coffee – I needed to slow down.

Now, you say, aren’t there mornings and afternoons where you don’t write? Where you go to work or out into life? Or aren’t you starting school again in September?

Yes. You’re right. And here’s what I have to say to that. I like to think of the coffees I have away from my writing desk as standardizing coffees. We try to go to bed at about the same time every night so that our body is prepared to sleep at that time when it really needs to. I drink coffee so I can give my body coffee when it really needs it. I am preparing it for the fuel it needs to write.

All this, of course, is mind tricks. I know caffeine is a drug and I am certainly treating it like one, but it is also a state of mind. How wired am I really getting from caffeine, and how wired from the idea of it?

One writer friend I know writes a poem every time she sits down to write in order to give an offering to her muse. I am sure that like all good desks and bookshelves pile up over time with lovely clutter, so will my superstitions. For now, I sit down anywhere and with anything but always with a coffee at the start of each shift of my day. Because for this period of my life, that works.

New Places to Read

In Inspiration, Literature on August 15, 2012 at 10:48 pm

My favourite parts about vacations and stays away from home are the new places I find to read. This summer has already blessed me with a hammock that seemed to have been forgotten about over the past few years, and in which I’ve read for many an hour (half-hour mostly).

Now I am somewhere new for a month – a beautiful, cozy but spacious home with wide open doors and wood-paneled walls. It and I sit at the top of a hill of arbutus trees and gardens with a view through the branches of the ocean and Vancouver and the islands off in the distance. I’m so happy here.

I’m so happy that I’m unable to stay in one spot for long, moving instead to discover new spaces – new reading spaces.

luxuryd3sign.tumblr.com via G on Pinterest

I love that sunlight comes into different places in the room at different parts of the day.

I love that couches are good to sit up and lie down on.

I love that some chairs spin and some chairs rock.

I love that outside is sometimes good and sometimes bad; that inside is sometimes boring, sometimes cozy.

I love that reading can be done anywhere but is especially great some places.

I love that reading implies staying in one place for a long period of time.

I love that reading can be done while walking, but barely ever is.

Today I put on Jazz music for the first time.

Bad-Ass Characters

In Thoughts on Writing on August 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm

I only write about bad-ass characters. My characters always say what I couldn’t have said in that situation (and luckily, I also get to make up the situations in which their bad-assness can be best exposed).

For example, I have really tall characters. My shorter characters are pixie-like, or children. My characters are beautiful, with the faults beautiful people have: a mole (beauty mark) here, and maybe their eyes are too green. I know it isn’t right to picture only beautiful people. But what if I want my movie to be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster? What if I want to have crushes on all my characters?

My characters all speak with concise wit. I try to make the bad ones speak a little less concisely, a little less witty. Maybe they swear once. Maybe they say something inappropriate to the moment. But still: bad-asses, all of them.

I here present a problem: reality. How far from it can I get? I understand that dialogue shouldn’t mimic speech exactly. I understand that characters shouldn’t go to the bathroom within my book. I understand that time needs to jump and place needs to shift and events need to be extraordinary and my protagonist needs to be put down consistently so he can rise up triumphantly, but how far can this book get from reality?

Like, can all my characters be bad-asses?

I ask this question with the presumption that we all want to be bad-asses. And I’m sure we don’t. Some of us want to be boring. But when I’m allowed to dream (which I am every night, and since I’ve started writing, every day too) I dream big. I become big.

I become too big for the scope of a regular me. I need to be a stronger me, a taller me, a more tragic me. And that’s where my characters come in. They are all facets of my ideal me.

What if I had been adopted by parents who never really loved me (not in the way I think parents should) and I had only become more loving and stronger from it?

What if I had grown up in Nova Scotia, dreaming of the Westcoast, and when I came here I realized I had lost myself?

What if I had dropped out of high school and driven across Canada?

What if I had to make the choice between two men who loved me?

I love empathizing with these people I have created, stretching the nuggets of my emotions to places they haven’t been but have dreamt of. I love that, building characters out of me.

P.S.

In My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on August 11, 2012 at 12:35 am

P.S. doesn’t exist anymore. Now we can always scroll back and fit in what we wanted to say. Nothing has to come post script anymore. But I miss P.S.

I miss making mistakes and having to cross them out or leave dark marks from bad erasers. I knew the function of P.S. for only a short amount of time in my life, when I still exchanged hand-written letters with the fellow neighbourhood spies of my childhood. Even for the small amount of time I needed it, P.S. still meant a lot to me.

P.S. meant I could say more than I first thought I needed to. P.S. meant I could tell you anything. P.S. meant I could make a mistake and amend it and not be ashamed. It meant I could tell you I loved you, I could tell you a joke, I could tell you a small anecdote that didn’t fit with the tone of the rest of my letter to you.

Now computers have obliterated the function of P.S. Still, we cling to its value. We often leave post-scripts in emails; we make movies about letter exchanges with voice-overs that read obligatory “P.S.” messages after the signature. We have equivocated P.S. with a nostalgia for the medium from which it came: letters.

I have been writing a letter to my friend Natasha for two months. I place it on my bed each day so it is in a central area where I am bound to take notice of it and complete it. I can’t. I can’t write a letter anymore.

I imagine Natasha wrote to me from a park bench looking out over summer in Edmonton. I can’t write back because though I want to, I think only that I could get my message out so much faster in an email. I think only that the letter I started two months ago is now old, that it no longer says what I need it to say. If I were to join my letter again, take it by the hand and complete it, my letter would be a letter of post scripts.

P.S. This is no longer the letter I wanted.

P.S. I have so much more to tell you.

P.S. Somewhere between your last letter and this letter that never got sent, you got married! (P.S. Congratulations, Natasha!!)

I have lost the ability to write straight through, to write a letter to the fellow spies in my neighbourhood and not second guess myself. I no longer have the fail safe of the final P.S. I think writing on a computer has changed the type of writer I might have been by hand.  At least I’m certain this is the case with letters. What a letter writer I might have been. I might have written letters every day. I might have had a correspondence with someone.

What is this nostalgia I’m feeling? I feel it in me, a grasping at the written word that I can only express by typing quickly from my nails onto this computer. I’ve changed, but I want to go back – back to a place I never knew, where post script was not a Latin word but a tool I used to tell you I don’t want to be done this letter, that I have something else to say.

What If I Hadn’t Written

In My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on August 9, 2012 at 7:48 pm

If I hadn’t written today, I would not have realized something about my two main characters because I wouldn’t have written the paragraph that told me it. If I had written yesterday, where might my story have gone?

I think it’s inevitable that every moment contains the potential for a different piece of writing. I wouldn’t have written this blog post this morning, or later this evening. I’m writing it now in a hammock, and salsa music is playing in the distance, and I just took my nail polish off. I am in a moment; so is my paragraph.

Is this why people decide to write in a routine? Do some people choose to write in the mornings because the book they are writing needs mornings? They’re writing a morning book? Is this what we decide, without realizing we’re deciding it?

My blog posts are created in moments. I don’t plan what to write before I write; I write. I use semi-colons because I feel balanced! If I planned ahead of time, then I would create a strange dissonance between the part of me that wanted to write such a thing twenty minutes ago and the part of me that wants to write the moment down.

I love the fact that I didn’t run into you on the street corner today but I met you at a party four years ago. I love that. I love circumstance and chance and coincidence. So why not apply the same concept to my writing?

That being said, my editing comes from a place of consistency. It must be on its game (its same game) this morning and tonight and if I’m editing over lunch. But when that place is shut down, when I am writing to create, my typing fingers live completely in the moment. What if I hadn’t written today? I would have missed something big. What if I don’t write tomorrow?

This is how vows to write every day and every moment are created. I will depend instead on coincidence. I write in the moments that I need to. I will rely on that.

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