Posted in Learning, Writing

Lesson #7 (The final lesson)

Today. Burnie, Tasmania. This is the final lesson, the final post about what I’ve learnt over the years. It has been a difficult challenge (Jill, I feel that you’re getting your own back) and I struggled with each post. Every morning I’d sit here, fingers poised on the keys, wondering what to type. I’d make a start, read it, delete it. I’ve just done that five/eleven/fifteen times already with this post.  These words may not even make it to the final post.

What have I learnt? When I ask that question my only response is: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I sometimes wonder if I’ve learnt anything at all.

The whisper of an idea, elusive and ephemeral, slips through my mind and is gone. A story hovers nearby, but not near enough to grasp. A learning glistens, tantalisingly close.

****

1977. Bomaderry, NSW. I am a dead woman in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and am so engrossed in the play, sitting on my chair in the cemetery, that I forget my line. Whoops.

1995. Launceston, Tasmania. Music blares from the speakers outside the door of A024. The classic tune, Funky Town, by Lipps Inc, spreads an energy through the audience, while also keeping them guessing.

It’s third year uni and Ashley and I decide to pair up for our final drama class. The task is to choose a playwright, and perform excerpts from some of his/her well-known plays. We choose The Chairs and  Rhinoceros, two plays by Eugene Ionesco, a Romanian/French absurdist playwright. Desperate, last minute rehearsals see the move from absurdist to absurd and from there it wasn’t much of a leap to funky, hence Lipps Inc setting the scene for us.

Our performance is imaginatively titled The funky side of Ionesco. I pretend not to see the lecturer wince. Ashley and I are more absurd than absurdist, doing Ionesco’s work no favours, but somehow it works. The funk/disco theme continues throughout, pulsing through the tiny auditorium at odd moments as the chairs fill the tiny performance space. Not necessarily rehearsed moments, mind you, but it adds to our brand of absurdity. We finish, look at the audience, and leave to the gentle strains of Wild Cherry.

The audience responds in a wildly enthusiastic manner. Even the lecturer looks impressed.

****

What have I learnt then? I feel like I should be sitting on a porch in my rocking chair, with my knitting on my knee for this bit!

I’ve learnt that sometimes we have to take a risk, we have to think beyond the boundaries that might ordinarily confine us. Forgetting my line in Our Town just meant that someone else said it – the play didn’t stop, the world didn’t end, one of the cast members picked it up and the show went on.

Thinking creatively about Ionesco’s work and being in the moment while we were performing gave an edge to our performance that may not have been there if we were highly polished after hours and hours of rehearsal. Adding that edge might have been possible if we’d been great actors, but we weren’t. Our desperation acted like a piece of apple cutting through the flavour of strong cheese … not something we would have thought consciously about if we’d been more prepared.

****

As I reflect on the stories I’ve told over this past week I notice a consistent theme: there are times in life when we need to spread our arms, hold our breaths and always trust our cape.

****

Thanks to Jill for the challenge, thanks to all those who have tuned in to read my daily posts, and thanks to those who have commented either here or on Facebook. I’ll leave you in peace now, until I begin my new challenge next week (no more posts this week). My next challenge is travelling through France and Italy.

Posted in Writing

Writing Challenge (Day Four)

Tim starts reading and says you’re a dag. And smiles.

He finishes reading and says you’re so clever. And I smile.

Daggily clever? Cleverly daggy? Daggy and clever?

Voice.

When I ask students to write a reflection or a statement of philosophy about teaching, I want to hear their voice.  I dealt with a student this week who had found someone else’s philosophy statement on a blog and pasted it into her assignment. It wasn’t her voice. It was an easy pick-up. It happens way too often. I’m happily reading along and suddenly it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife pops into the middle of the sentence. My ears prick up. Hang on, I say inside my head, that’s not Student A, that’s Jane Austen.

I keep reading and lo and behold it seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days and I recognise the very distinct voice of Stevens. It seems strange that his voice would appear in the midst of a student assignment on the fundamentals of communication in the classroom. I pause, I puzzle, I shake my head to clear it, only to read on and discover that I remain transfixed by Stevens’ voice.

Stevens’ voice comes about through long sentences and parenthetical comments: An expedition, I should say, which I will undertake alone, in the comfort of Mr Farraday’s Ford; an expedition which, as I foresee it, will take me through much of the finest countryside of England to the West Country, and may keep me away from Darlington Hall for as much as five or six days. It’s a voice that takes me instantly into the complexity of the character and slows me down. I move to the couch to be more comfortable because this is one of my favourite books, but I read on only to discover that many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. I am transported into the magically real world Gabriel Garcia Marquez paints in One hundred years of solitude.

I am confused. Student A (let’s call her Anna and in that way flesh her out a little) is writing about communication in the classroom, but her voice is lost in the other voices that keep intruding on her paper. I would go so far as to say that Anna has not found or established her own voice yet. She has let herself be distracted by other readings, others’ thoughts, others’ voices. She has not done her own thinking (which, let’s face it, is difficult); rather she has relied on my mother is, like, a totally confirmed A-list [expletive riddled passage deleted] *** hole cretin [expletive riddled passage deleted] ***head of the highest order. Fact. In fact, I, of this moment, officially declare my entire doubt of the fact that she is in fact my actual real mother.

My head is spinning, I flick backwards and forwards through Anna’s paper wondering where that voice came from. There’s no acknowledgement of her source, but it really doesn’t sound like Anna.  I do a Google search and find that it is the voice of Dora from Dawn French’s A tiny bit marvellous. Possibly not the best source Anna could find for her paper, but I suppose that all happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.

Tolstoy? Wow. 

Voice. Use your own. I know, believe me I know, it can be hard to develop your own, but your audience wants to hear First the colours. Then the humans. 

No, Marcus Zusack, now is not the time to intrude. I’m trying to establish my voice. A distinct voice. A voice that emerges from the snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks … excuse me, Donna Tartt, please don’t do that. I’m trying to write in my own voice. A voice that is uniquely mine, a voice that is worth being heard, that emerges from this is Albion Gidley Singer at the pen, a man with a weakness for a good fact.

Kate Grenville, seriously, this is so not the time. I cannot finish on someone else’s words. I have to finish with my own because the war had ended as wars sometimes do, unexpectedly.

****

Tomorrow, the conclusion.

Posted in Photography

Fifty shades of … grump

Inexplicably, it has become a publishing phenomenon.

Like Twilight did.

I really like what author Stephen King had to say about Twilight.  Have you seen it?  He said, “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.”

I really can’t comment as I didn’t read the Twilight books and I haven’t seen the movies.

The author of Twilight is supposed to have had a dream, and when she woke up she wrote what is now Chapter 13 of the first book.  It grew from there.

An inauspicious beginning.

I am generally suspicious of books that take the publishing world by storm – I have read the Harry Potter series, but not Twilight, not The Hunger Games, not The Girl with any kind of Tattoo.

And I haven’t read Fifty Shades of …

Except for the excerpts available from Amazon.

I thought I’d see what the fuss was about.  I wish I hadn’t bothered.

You know how repetition is great in children’s books?  Susan Gannon, writing in 1987, claimed that “repetition is one of the most familiar features of children’s literature. It clarifies the structure of narrative for young readers, and helps them to remember what they have read. It adds rhythm and the mysterious charm of ritual to the simplest of verbal formulas. It offers the pleasure of extended suspense and delayed gratification to even the youngest audience” (p. 2).

But it’s one thing that rubs me up the wrong in writing for adults. The writing gets so boring, the author appears unimaginative, and I’m left wondering why this book has become a best seller.  The female lead, a stumbling, bumbling young thing (oh, for goodness sake, pick your feet up), “sprawls” into what’s-his-name’s office (who does that?) only to find that what’s-his-name is some sort of demi-god who came off the set of a Robert Palmer music video (except in the video all the clones have dark hair).

Here’s what another reviewer found (I wish I’d read this before I read the excerpt): “And oh, the repetition…and the repetition…and the repetition. I’m convinced the author has a computer macro that she hits to insert one of her limited repertoire of facial expressions whenever she needs one. According to my Kindle search function, characters roll their eyes 41 times, Ana bites her lip 35 times, Christian’s lips “quirk up” 16 times, Christian “cocks his head to one side” 17 times, characters “purse” their lips 15 times, and characters raise their eyebrows a whopping 50 times. Add to that 80 references to Ana’s anthropomorphic “subconscious” (which also rolls its eyes and purses its lips, by the way), 58 references to Ana’s “inner goddess,” and 92 repetitions of Ana saying some form of “oh crap” (which, depending on the severity of the circumstances, can be intensified to “holy crap,” “double crap,” or the ultimate “triple crap”). … She “blushes” or “flushes” 125 times, including 13 that are “scarlet,” 6 that are “crimson,” and one that is “stars and stripes red.” (I can’t even imagine.) Ana “peeks up” at Christian 13 times, and there are 9 references to Christian’s “hooded eyes,” 7 to his “long index finger,” and 25 to how “hot” he is (including four recurrences of the epic declarative sentence “He’s so freaking hot.”). Christian’s “mouth presses into a hard line” 10 times. Characters “murmur” 199 times, “mutter” 49 times, and “whisper” 195 times (doesn’t anyone just talk?), “clamber” on/in/out of things 21 times, and “smirk” 34 times. Christian and Ana also “gasp” 46 times and experience 18 “breath hitches,” suggesting a need for prompt intervention by paramedics. Finally, in a remarkable bit of symmetry, our hero and heroine exchange 124 “grins” and 124 “frowns”…

That’s a lot of repetition.

A lot.

Too much.

It annoyed me.  It annoyed a lot of people.

My question is: why didn’t it annoy more people?  Why didn’t it annoy everyone who read the book?  Who went on to read more than one, because apparently, there’s more than one?

Apart from the repetition, the other thing I didn’t like about what I read was the detail.  Do we have to know that they walked down the street and waited at the corner for the man to go green before they could cross?  It’s so pedestrian.  Writing that goes into that much detail about really mundane things says to me that the author is unsure of how to build tension.  Without tension there is no story (I am a drama teacher still).  I don’t know if any tension was created in the rest of the book, but I didn’t become interested enough in the bit I read to want to find out. That’s poor writing. “I can’t imagine what fans are comparing this to when they describe this as “good”(Amazon reviewer, with whom I happen to agree).

So, the upshot is, as my fingers move slowly across the keyboard, clicking the ‘a’  key before moving on to press the ‘s’ key and then pushing the space bar to create a space between one word and the next, then clicking the ‘m’ key before moving on to press the ‘y’ key and then pushing the space bar to create a space between one word and the next … the upshot is, I won’t be buying the book and I’ll be left wondering why it has become a best seller and why (when there is so much other material around in the genre – just look on any service station magazine shelf) the movie rights are expected to cost $5 million dollars.

I know I sound like a grumpy old lady (oh, don’t they drive you mad!) but that’s what happens when I read poorly written, repetitive stories, that try to cross Pretty Woman with a men’s magazine (and don’t do it very well).

It isn’t literature.

I’m not even sure why it’s read.