Fake prose

Sometimes I can write a page of words without them meaning anything. It’s a problem (or blessing) that arose from the take-no-prisoner’s writing style I used as a kid: I must write a story, no time for thinking. Sentences would drop out of the sky with fully-formed stories behind them. The fully-formed stories would turn into my story. But since I hadn’t written a story yet, since I only had one page of words in front of me, it was meaningless, all nonsense.

Sentences like “she walked through mud without caring about the time that she had been dragged through it.” Sentences like “she believed in the worst of times.” Sentences like “she lived in tribes, she ate in a cafeteria.” Nonsense sentences like these all mean something to me when I write them down, the same way dreams make sense when you are in them. Then you wake up and you remember that there was a whole story behind that part of the dream you can remember. Then you try to tell somebody about the dream and it all falls apart. That wasn’t real. I dreamt that.

I taught myself to write by writing non-writing, by writing fake prose. I did a first draft of a novel this way and got a nasty shock when I revisited page one. But having gone through that unconscious writing phase where everything and anything meant something and should be written down let me get to where I am now: with a novel that’s actually a story. The holes are filled in and sentences are now used intentionally.

Journals- Keeping Your Memory_2

(photo from West Island Gazette)

Then a few nights ago (fake prose is always written at night) I lay down (fake prose is always written on one’s back, with a computer up against the knees) and hammered out a two page story that I’m sure isn’t a real story. I have yet to read it again, but I know it contains sentences of the aforementioned kind, where things are suggested and things are interesting, but they’re coming from a place inside my head that isn’t really me.

If it’s not really my thinking process coming up with the prose, then the writing process becomes an interesting one. It means that I am interpreter, rather than a composer. It means I’m looking for meaning in language rather than trying to use language to expose meaning. It acknowledges the notion that stories fall out of somewhere complete unto themselves and that it’s the writer’s job to mine them. And since that’s what I believe about stories, then I’m happy that I write in a way that can deliver them.

I hope that when I think I’m writing fake prose I’m really writing magical prose. We all know I’m just writing bad prose and trying to pass it off as something else, but there is something undeniably magical about a first draft, before the words realize where they are.

Love to Hemingway Style

I just read (the foreword of) Carlos Baker’s biography of Hemingway (Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story). I was afraid a biography of Hemingway might dry up the mysterious longing I have for him, the kind that makes me want to keep returning to his standoffish narrators to find out more about him, knowing I never will.

(photo credit The Toronto Star)

Instead, I found this: “The small boy who shouted “Fraid o’nothing” became the man who discovered that there was plenty to fear, including that vast cosmic nothingness which Goya named Nada -Baker

Hemingway in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Placewrites: “What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada.”

I quickly realized something in the foreword to Baker’s Hemingway biography: Baker writes like Hemingway! Or at least he channels the same emotion Hemingway did in his writing. Paula McLain also managed to do this in The Paris Wife, through the character of Hadley. I don’t feel any distaste for these emulations; in fact, I can’t get enough of them. I am obsessed with Hemingway-style writing. Did you hear Corey Stoll inMidnight in Paris? I can’t get enough of the beat.

“The romantic activist, the center and in many ways the originator of his own universe, became the pragmatic moralist whose leading aim was to find out how to live in life, how to last and (having lasted) how to convert a carefully cultivated stoical fortitude into the stuff of which his fictional heroes were made.” –Baker

The Hemingway-like sentence construction “the stuff of,” the “having lasted” in brackets, it all makes me tingle. Did I connect with Hemingway’s writing for the same reasons that everyone else did? Of course. Did I take it and make it my own and try to pretend no one but me had ever read this? Of course I did. That’s what all great art does. I love John Mayer. John Mayer loves me.

“He admired courage and stoical endurance in women as in men, disliked hard backtalk, fishwifely screaming, false accusations, true accusations.”

“He divided all the world into good guys and jerks. With some notable exceptions, he preferred the lower and middle to the upper classes, although his taste in people (again with exceptions) was usually excellent.”

There was the fierce individualist who resisted fad and fashion like the plague, who held that a writer must be an “outlyer” like a gypsy”

Don’t we all wish we could resist the fad and fashion? Why is it so hard to do? Instead we emulate Hemingway. Hemingway is so stylish right now because we want to be stylish too. We want to be the person who started things, who made things simple again, who lived all over the world and did what he pleased and was a jerk but drank it away. We want to be tragic, we want to be the stuff of.

I don’t believe Carlos Baker is one of us, moving to Paris and wearing Hemingway moustaches (I wish I could). He was a contemporary trying his best to channel Hemingway the man. He succeeded at channeling what I know of the man – his writing – or so far his Foreword did, and through him and his prose we get to live a little longer through the words and the life of the man.

(photo from Wikipedia)