Veronique Darwin

Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Full Moon Dreams

In Dreams, My Writing, Teaching on May 26, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I created worlds in my dreams this week, alternate universes. I did little yet so much writing this week.

For our final writing project of my practicum, I asked my grade three students to do something called “writing projects”. The idea was they could create an idea for a project – any type of writing they could think of – and then they had to write it. I read their first drafts this Saturday night and was blown to pieces. Imagine if everyone did a writing project.

 

What a neat thing, to ask your brain to create alternate universes every night, universes where you dance on a party bus as if that is just something you do in your personality. Imagine creating an alternate universe where you get to visit with someone you don’t get to see anymore every night. What a writing project I have under my belt, these dreams of mine.

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I’ve started writing them down, as if to tell them I am taking them more seriously. I wake up and I write the last thing that happened to me – my reality before I opened my eyes – and from there I go back in non-sequential time to all the other pieces of myself I had made up in the hours of unconsciousness. More than you would think comes back to me. I fill up a page or two at least. I write everything because it is all so insignificant that I can’t let the grocery store dream go if I’m keeping the elevator on the beach. It’s all nonsense; it’s all gold.

The final step my students will take in their writing projects will be deciding on a mode of publication and publishing it. I scribble my dreams down every morning. Months and years later I reread them and I remember my dreams like memories. They inform my writing and my life. They inspire me and make my life feel bigger than it is. They provide a recursive element that isn’t present in my linear life but has no reason not to be. They allow me to reflect and absorb and change. I am shifted every night because of something and I think it is good I have found importance in what it was that happened that made me shift.

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The Shortest Story

In Literature, Thoughts on Writing on May 19, 2013 at 10:50 pm

It seems that if we all had the choice, we would choose to read the shortest story possible. We’re lazy and we’re losing our attention span on words. Fewer are better. If that short story has the same impact on us as the longest novel ever (Atlas Shrugged felt like it; I skipped a 100-page speech) then wouldn’t we always choose it?

I had a conversation with a friend last night who told me she only reads short stories. She reads one novel in the summer. I thought this odd, that one could like reading but simply ignore what I like to read. As I am easily influenced by others’ reading choices (the mark of all good readers, who want to be reading everything), I immediately started naming the merits of the short story in the face of the novel.

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(Heminway, photo from reinhardkargl.com)

Short stories are never boring. They don’t have time to be. Short stories are always finishable in one sitting, giving them a mood that is influenced by the mood you come at them with. Short stories must have strong characters, and you must know only key things about that character. You are given room, then, to imagine and create from what is given, and the text must give you hints in order for you to do so. Most importantly, short stories are about moments. The more striking the moment, the more the story will stay with you. It’s hard for a novel to have a striking moment without it being cheesy, without it seeming too climactic and overbearing for the rest of the story. The novel is a story about time; the short story is about a moment.

When I read I want details. I want to feel them, not live through them. I’m living already – I want to feel.

Dreams I Control

In Dreams on May 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm

 

When I was little I often had dreams I could control. The one I remember best is being chased by a monster. I taunted him, telling him I didn’t care if he caught me because I would just wake myself up. I remember yelling at him, “Hey! This is just a dream!” I have since learned these are lucid dreams. I don’t think I have had one since I was six. I had one last night.

I lived with my imaginary family in South Africa. My father was in trouble for embezzlement. It was a hot night and I was listening to music when I heard the glass door break downstairs. I immediately knew what was going to happen. I either lived the dream twice in a row or I created it as I went. It was so real but at the same time it was nothing like real life: I knew the ending. My father ran up the stairs with a handful of knives he had taken from a drawer in the kitchen. He handed them to my mother, younger brother and I. We followed him upstairs. He closed the curtains and we snuck out of the balcony on to the roof of our RV. My dad helped us down through the skylight. My mom was trying to keep things light; my brother was crying. I kept low in the RV as my father backed out of the driveway. I clutched the knives in my hands. Things started to get darker though the day was bright as we approached a toll booth. Under her breath, as though confused but enlightened, my mother asked to no one in particular: “I wonder if they’re going to make a phone call.” There were a few expensive cars parked off to the side. There was a crowd at the toll booth but we were summoned ahead. Young workers eyed each other as my father pulled the RV in to a stop. Though my mother and I both seemed to know what was about to happen, neither of us made a move to stop it. I decided to open my eyes to wake up from the nightmare because I didn’t want to have to experience being murdered.

Where dreams come from

(photo from themarkeworld.com)

I read a Wikipedia entry about lucid dreaming and fell in love with this phrase: “Once this area (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) is activated and the recognition of dreaming occurs, the dreamer must be cautious to let the dream continue but be conscious enough to remember that it is a dream.” It invokes such danger, like lucid dreaming is a predicament one got oneself into. The other scary thing this article says about lucid dreaming is that it may work the opposite way. Instead of realizing that a dream is a dream, one might be led to believe that a dream is real life. It was my first thought this morning when I woke myself up out of my South African nightmare: what if I am still there? What if I am in a double dream?

I love being able to control a dream, because dreams then become like an easier real life. I can wake up when needed, but before that I can experience anything imaginable, without the danger of making wrong decisions. It’s a freedom, but one that can’t be appreciated without the consciousness that comes from lucid dreaming. If we aren’t aware we’re dreaming, we usually forget our dreams. And we can’t wake up before the going gets tough.

It’s a parallel, really, to consciousness. What are we doing here if we’re not aware we’re here? At every moment of the day where you’re not aware of your own consciousness you are in what might as well be a dream state. You are not in control. It is only when we make the choice to stay or to leave that we become lucid – that we stop dreaming and start living. I wonder if there is a correlation between meditation (or self-awareness of other sorts) and lucid dreaming. This Wikipedia site about lucid dreaming also says that “it has been suggested that sufferers of nightmares could benefit from the ability to be aware they are indeed dreaming.” I don’t know if lucidity is something we can cultivate in dreams, but it is certainly something we can work to improve on in our daily lives. If were think we’re living in a nightmare, we have the ability to take control and yell at monsters: “Hey! This is only life!”

 

 

 

 

Filling in and Taking out

In My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on May 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm

 

It’s this common thing you’re supposed to know about as a writer – like “show don’t tell” but less mainstream – that some writers are “filler-inners” and some are “taker-outers.” Some important writer (obviously a filler-inner) discovered this and we repeat it. I like it because it makes things organized. It lets everyone be a writer: oh, I just took something out? I guess I’m a taker-outer. It’s nice to find an identity in this game.

Taking out is writing too much then realizing that things could be simpler. I do this to a certain extent: I try to say the least possible because I value poetry over clarity. However, I don’t write enough to begin with, so taking out isn’t my main hobby.

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(image from 123rf.com)

I wrote my first draft in six weeks. It was a novella. It told feeble stories in some semblance of an order and my main character was sort of mean because I just rushed through her. The whole thing felt like a teenager wrote it and like it was at that moment not fit to show anyone. It wasn’t – I was right. But I marveled at its beginning, its middle and its end. It was a self-sufficient thing. It was a novel.

From it I had to add. I spent drafts adding, then further drafts taking out (because I value poetry over clarity). I spent one whole draft adding details, circling words in green and then talking about those words. I filled in pockets and boxes and empty pools with words. I filled in an ocean.

Still, at draft five (which has seamlessly, unbeknownst to me, flowed into what I will have to consider draft six), I fill things in all the time. I write broad moment without meaning to and only later realize their emptiness of anything at all. They lack visuals; they lack whole characters. I make notes to myself on what I need to fill in with CAPS LOCKS. I later write a freewrite to fill in what I decided was missing. Freewriting (the act of writing quickly without thinking) allows me to find what it is I was trying to say, the thing I had left out because I was too focused on getting to the end. This works best when I haven’t reread the section I’m filling in on lately. Instead I work only from the notes I gave myself, hoping that coming from a different brain space might give me some insight. It often does.

KEEP ALL THIS? IT SEEMS PEDANTIC, BUT I ALSO NEED TO HAVE CONVERSATIONS IN MY BOOK AT SOME POINT. MAKE THIS ONE MORE FULL OF TENSION, SO THAT THE CONVERSATION TOPIC ACTUALLY SERVES THE PLOT, MORE THAN THE PLOT SERVING THE CONVERSATION TOPIC.

Now I just reread the blog post I linked to above and am pleased to admit that I am a later-me, a modified, mature me, because here I am actually filling in those caps locks. I am putting things in, not taking things out. I am going somewhere, toward a longer, richer novel. I am going somewhere, and it will be full!

 

Writing about Gatsby to be Relevant

In Literary Events, Thoughts on Writing on May 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm

 

I’m going to write a post about The Great Gatsby because I feel I am falling into irrelevance and infrequency here on my blog and I just want to write something that catches my own eye. I always try and read blogs or the news but it’s as though anything happening anywhere is still less interesting than something happening to me. So instead I read fiction or I sit here puzzled by life or I bury myself in work. That sounds horrible but I am becoming a teacher so that means I cut out coloured paper or plan how to explain something simple.

So the new Gatsby movie was so much better than the last Gatsby movie, which I stopped halfway through. There’s something so bad about a movie following a book so exactly, like someone lost their imagination and then decided to make a movie. Though this movie quotes the book at parts, it strives more to reinvent the mood of the book, which is really what the book is, a mood. I didn’t remember the end scene after the first time I read it; I just remembered how I felt when I read the book. I read it in high school but not for high school and was forever after puzzled about why other high school students had to read it for high school. I couldn’t find the academic merit in it. It was so light; it was so easy. It made me feel so much.

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(photo from youngtopublishing.com)

I had a similar reaction when I read The Sun Also Rises, which I think but am never sure is my favourite book. Somebody wrote this ninety years ago? Somebody became a great American writer for writing this? These books are my twenties though they’re written in the twenties. They are about nothing more than him wanting her and all the seduction, passion, wit, nostalgia and pain that comes with that. They are about alcohol and money and glamour and everything that is misplaced and desirable in your twenties.

It was at some point long after I started writing it that I realized I am writing the book about my twenties. The whole thing seems to lose a little hope when I admit this because I have another six years to go and so then does the book. But I’m doing it whether I want to or not. Being in your twenties is about a certain self-absorption that couldn’t possibly be overcome in a first novel. I can’t write about the thirties until I’ve gotten me out of the way enough. I’m obsessed with me and everything around me and me interacting with it. It’s still sexy, it’s still young. I still want things. It’s why Gatsby is relevant: people have gotten stuck in their twenties.

Think of the good music that’s coming out now. Think of the people who are running big businesses like Twitter and Facebook. Think of who is driving revolutions, good and bad. Think of who are the people who are getting hit in the long run in this financial crisis. It’s us! It’s all about us! At least when we’re involved. To me, it’s all about us. You might have turned thirty.

Gatsby is about wanting love and about losing love and every kind of emotion that comes with that. It gives a mood to that gnawing anxiety we feel. It even makes it fun. This movie was able to sync two generations together: people in their twenties in the twenties and people in their twenties now. A final warning to please read the book first before seeing the movie, for fear you lose some capacity for imagination or maybe just some cachet. Reading is really in right now for people in their twenties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every 2 days

In Thoughts on Writing on May 6, 2013 at 10:09 pm

What do you do every two days? I bet it says the most about you. It’s the thing that’s the most important in your life but that others don’t see as integral. It’s not your work – it’s what you do to refuel. It’s your work in the sense that it’s your life work. It’s the thing you make resolutions about, wanting to do it every day. And you know that if you did it every day you’d reach some place greater. Maybe you did it every day for a while and you felt changed. But it’s the thing you do every two days because every two days is realistic and it lets you keep doing the thing that you love.

When I first started this blog I decided I would post every two days. This seemed like a natural goal: it would keep what readers I had interested because there would almost always be new content but never an overwhelming amount. It seemed manageable. If a blog post takes me twenty minutes to write, then I could spend an hour a week on my blog.

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image from blog.jetbrains.com

It wasn’t until I placed into my life a new activity (a full time job) that I noticed that every two days gets reserved for one thing. Maybe I go to yoga every two days. If this is the case, then I’m probably writing here every three. If I am intent on focusing on my novel, I put this off for the sake of that. I even started meditating in the morning. If I did that every two days, I felt complete. I forgot that I had a responsibility here.

We can’t do everything every two days. We obviously can’t do everything everyday. But what we choose to do with the time that isn’t spent on our work – what we choose to make our lifework – is what defines us. When I’m not here every two days I hope I’m at yoga. I hope I’m writing my novel. I hope I’m not watching a new season of Community every two days or visiting various Dollar Stores for teaching materials. I hope I am reserving the precious time in my life for what I once believed, and still believe, is the thing that I am meant to do.

Where are you if you’re not writing?

In Thoughts on Writing on May 4, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I asked the question to my mind, a separate piece of myself that writes everything I’ve written: where are you if you’re not writing? It shrugged, whispered excuses. It told me it had just been coming up with things.

Is writing a writing-thing, or is it a thinking-thing? Is writing what you do when you put words down or when you come up with them? I know when I think about myself writing I don’t just see myself producing – that would be heartbreaking, that I am a machine – but I see myself creating a world. I actually picture dreaming a lot more like writing than I do writing an email, than I do writing an essay.

I dream up worlds every night. In this world there is this house and there is this person I’ve never seen before. I’m me but I know this house and I know this person and I’m existing within these bounds. Are these alternate realities? Did I just make up a house? A person?

I pride myself in my dreams; I see them as my unconscious brain practicing. But don’t you dream, you who aren’t necessarily a writer? Are we all writing, every night, and only some of us taking the time to put it down?

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(image from http://www.officialpsds.com)

Words are such a sorry excuse for text. It’s why our love for them is a rarity, why the people who love words are a minority. How can you love a thing like that, something we all had to learn in primary school?

But I think people are falling in love with ideas again, and with text to describe them. I haven’t been alive for more decades than two but I noticed that Twitter is a thing and that it wasn’t one before. People are so excited to share their ideas through these words, words that are broken up into smaller bits called characters. People are expressing themselves through characters, making up worlds in 180 of them. And we love it! We eat it up! Are we all literary?

I die when I’m not writing, I die because every piece of me that is writing at every moment isn’t getting any satisfaction. It says something, that to be thinking but not writing isn’t writing. It says that the hand and the pen, or the fingers and the keyboard, have something, some very small thing to do with it.

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