Thursday, April 30, 2009

Believing (Michelle)

In Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, the detective Lord Peter Wimsey urges Harriet Vane, a writer of mysteries, to stop writing clockwork whodunits and explore real characters and real emotions in her mysteries. She responds that she could do it, but it would "hurt like hell." He answers: "What difference would that make, if it made a better book?"

You can, of course, as a writer, hide from personal and universal realities as easily as you can as a non-writer. But it's a dangerous business, putting your pen to paper (to paraphrase Bilbo) --- if you're really trying to do it well, there's no knowing where it might lead to.

I'm discovering at the moment, for example, that writing does not allow you to get away with only saying you believe something. Without giving away the interminably dull details of my novel, it's supposed to have an unlikely happy ending driven by, let's say sloppily, love.

Trouble is, I can't envision it; and I have finally figured out that this is because I don't believe sufficiently in the incredible redeeming power of a single act of love. Oh, I want to believe it, which is probably why the novel exists at all, but I don't believe it enough yet to write about it.

But I kind of hope that by writing about it, I'll believe it.

So apparently, writing can demand rigorous integrity of you, force you to admit your failings. It can utterly change you. And yes, it can hurt like hell.

p.s. I really, really wanted to use the tag "Agatha Christie's writing desk" again. Soo...I figured since I was talking about mystery novels...it sort of counts...?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Birds (Michelle)

Pennsylvania has finally surrendered to spring, and the yard is full of dandelions, greenery, and birds. I watched six goldfinches jockeying for position in a flowering tree the other day, and I am trying to learn a few birdsongs. My sister and her children are embarrassingly good at identifying birdsongs --- while I'm still not entirely convinced that kildeer is even a bird, really.

So, spring is sprung, and it's appropriate to return to the subject of birds.

Here, Adam O'Riordan at the Guardian's books blog wonders why birds remain such powerful, fertile images.

Here, there are recordings of birdsongs. As a novelist, at least, I find that I am constantly in need of expanding my concrete knowledge of the world --- to describe not a tree, but an oak, a maple, an ash. Likewise, with birds --- who croaks, who warbles, who screams.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Guerilla Theater (Michelle)

My lovely and talented friend Kelsey posted this video on her Facebook profile. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of "guerilla theater," basically it involves organizing some kind of performance that appears to happen spontaneously in a public place with a highly unsuspecting audience. The wonderful occurrence in this video happened in a train station in Antwerp.



Mostly, I just deeply deeply wish I could have been there. Life should be like this more often. We live in limbo between the artificial and the mundane anyway, so why not enjoy it?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the recent best-seller Eat, Pray, Love, discusses modern ideas of creativity and possible alternatives to the soul-crushing pressure of trying to be a Genius or Artist-Hero. She talks about the subject with a lot of warmth and humor, and I at least was very moved by it. One of those hand-comes-out-and-takes-yours moments.


video

This is a rather lovely video from TED.com, a collection of interesting talks by interesting people distributed under the Creative Commons copyright.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why NOT combine jewel thieves, flying buses, wormholes, and man-eating aliens? (Michelle)

So, a few days ago I watched an interview with Russell T Davies in which he discussed the (then) upcoming (now past) Doctor Who Easter special, "Planet of the Dead." This is (more or less) how he summarized it:

So, the Doctor gets on a bus which, by coincidence, has also been boarded by an international jewel thief. They're actually in the middle of a police chase when the bus is transported through a wormhole to an alien planet, and they have to somehow get this bus moving when it's buried in sand, and the Swarm is on the way, so it's a race against time...really, a cautionary tale about the sort of thing that could happen to anyone.


Perhaps this sounds like drivel to you, but plots like this are the reason I doubt that I will ever get tired of Doctor Who --- it is composed of sheer narrative exuberance. This is how Doctor Who "saved my writing": at a time when I was very, very tired, and very, very sad, it helped me remember that story-telling is, above all, tremendous fun.

Russell T Davies' creations constantly remind me to enjoy my writing and my imagination, because the stories seem to start from this place of, "Hmm, what would I like to write about? Oh! I know! Jewel thieves! That's fun...and...wormholes! That's fun too! And desert planets! We could even film in Dubai, maybe..." And yet, from this place of ludicrous, larger-than-life, over-the-top, incredibly hyphenated narrative exuberance, comes what Julie Gardner calls "full-blooded emotion." It's possible to enjoy a rip-roaring good yarn and at the same time think about really important things like, say, the transience of the created universe.

Er...I'm trying to think of some clever way to end this post, but all my ideas are sort of trite. Another "All hail the BBC?" Another apology for posting on Doctor Who again? Mostly, I'm just wondering why I feel the need to start so many posts with "So." I think it's some leftover Anglo-Saxon impulse. Perhaps I should switch to "Hwaet" whenever I want to say "So."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Eating Words (Michelle)

A small point, but one that can't escape the perfectionist:

I discover on revisiting The Sun Also Rises that the main character's name is not Nick but Jake. Whoops; embarrassing error. And the "selfish, thoughtless whatsername" is Brett, in case anyone was wondering. And Brett's not so bad...she's just lost like everybody else in that book.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I Shall Not Live in Vain (Michelle)

Just because we're all about redefining "success," here at Daedalus Notes...

Here's one from Emily Dickinson:

If I can stop one heart from breaking (#919)

If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in vain.

(c. 1864)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Just a Story? (Michelle)

A friend sent me this article by Alexander McCall Smith, author of (among other things) The Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency. Smith discusses the deep connections that readers can feel to fictional characters.

My friend sent this to me with a note saying that she thought of me. This is ignominious proof of my tendency to become over-involved with fiction, and while I do continue to insist that I am not in love with Doctor Who, no one ever believes me. (It's terribly insulting.) I know I'm not the only one who knows the difference between fiction and fact but doesn't necessarily feel that difference. I knew someone in college who with every fiber of her being wanted to stand between Nick and the thoughtless, selfish whatsername in The Sun Also Rises.

In any case, Smith's basic basic point is that we respond to stories as if they're real. This is simply how they're made. He writes:

The truth is that for many of us fiction is in some sense real, and that what happens to fictional people is, in a curious way, happening in the real world.

It's trompe l'oeil again. We cry or laugh because we accept, however momentarily, that it's real. Smith teases out some of the interesting ways in which detective fiction specifically relies on this as a genre.

Writing is a moral act: What you write has a real effect on others, often to a rather surprising extent.

Write responsibly, I guess.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Moments of Clarity in Battlestar Galactica (Jillian)

I have a confession to make.

For months now, I have been exploring the re-vamped sci-fi series, on recommendation from my roommate's family who have had a score of brilliant things to say about the show. It has been an experiment for me, a case study to view another corner of the realm of science fiction. After Star Wars and Doctor Who, I have to say, Battlestar Galactica has been a challenge to get close to. Get too close and you might actually pull back a bloody stump… or end up with piercing headache.

Humans, Cylons and Survivors in Battlestar Galactica, Season 3
(Click on the picture to appreciate its full glory!)

Yet somehow, I've stuck with it. And despite the brutality, often-gratuitous sexuality, and the general dark side of the human race, I think I have been won over… cautiously so. It has been a struggle, especially since many/most of the characters in this wide dramatis personae have moved up and down on my scale of respect for a whole slew of reasons. I could go into a great detail about the self-destruction and horrible wrongness I see leak out of every character, but that would make for a very long blog entry, and I doubt anyone would want to continue reading.

In a nutshell, Battlestar is a scenario about the last of the human race struggling to survive after their homeworlds have been destroyed by human-looking, vendetta-bent Cylon robots ("toasters" as the humans call them). Unlike Doctor Who, it generally tells a story of despair, where characters are more inclined to attack one another than look toward self-unifying hope. In this sense it is brutally honest, at the end of your rope, constantly running from the barrage of Cylon attacks, the world has already crumbled around you. People are broken. People hurt each other. People have little else to turn to rather than their own sorrow, their own losses, their own entitlements. Fathers and sons bash heads (that would be Admiral Adama and his son Lee, in charge of the pilots); women are men with female parts - brutalizing each other, smoking cigars (Starbuck), throwing punches (also Starbuck); we can't tell what the Cylons are "planning" and we really don't want to know; marriages crumble; the young and untested die; motives fluctuate and only serve to hurt others (Gaius Baltar); and the list goes on and on. On the edge, the humans are allowed to stick to their personal vendettas, racisms, vices, etc. There has been far too much sex, betrayal, violence, murder, torture, rape, suicide, mistrust and hopelessness.

And yet, surprisingly enough, I did not set out to write about Battlestar's flaws. I have just finished the third season, and I have to say I am beginning to see some light shining through all of that darkness. Light that I can use. Light that keeps me interested in the unfolding mystery and the pilgrimage of the humans to their mythical Earth.

1. There are 12 Cylon models (each a different person, of course), of which there are infinite copies. When one is killed, the consciousness is downloaded into another body. These resurrections, taking place in a human-sized tank, are not pleasant. The Cylons carry with them their experiences and their agony into the next life. The battle is never over, and easy it is not. They are far from perfect creatures, and their contempt of human kind is overwhelmingly dark, and the idea that they are one side of the struggle, questioning their own existence makes them more interesting.

2. There is a bigger story at work, even if several characters like to scoff about it. Worshipping a pantheon of Greek/Roman gods, these 12 colonies are making way to Earth. The president of the Colonies, Laura Roslin, fulfills the prophecy of a leader dying of cancer who will bring them to Earth. Miracles abound which neither purpose-seeking Cylons nor the thick-headed humans understand: the mysterious cosmic road signs in nebulas and temples waiting for them on random planets; dreams and visions; the fate of the one half-human, half-Cylon child named Hera; the question regarding the identities of the last five Cylons. This story cannot fit into a box. It is written out, preordained, and while it may seem like the human race is dwindling, it is actually meant to survive.

3. In addition to that idea, the idea that the Cylons (particularly the models played by none other than Lucy Lawless called Three) question the purpose of their existence is deeply interesting to me. Three is searching for answers. She begins to commit suicide on a regular basis in order to revisit the dreams she's had: "There is something miraculous between life and death."

4. Finding purpose in death. Despite the destruction, there are a few characters over the course of three seasons who have stepped up to sacrifice themselves for the survival of humanity, and to meet death not as a way to end their own suffering and confusion but to carry it to the next level. And to that end, seeing that the crumbling roots of one's past is actually a part of the future. In this season, Kara Thrace ("Starbuck"), the cigar-smoking, mistake-driven, hard-edged woman, with a failing marriage and life-long bitterness is lost in a battle… pretty much allows herself to die. She returns to lead the way to Earth. She, who spent her life running from her gifts and hurting people before she got hurt herself, is one of the saviors of humanity. To take that step, to make the sacrifice, and stare cosmic truth in the face is not the end of her story, but the beginning.


5. The revelation of the final five Cylons. Not even the Cylons know who they are. They are a sacred mystery. "Humans" must come to grips with the fact that once that "switch" goes off, their lives have changed… and were woven into the fabric of humanity for a specific (albeit elusive) purpose. The mystery of who keeps us going. Who are they turning into? What will they bring about? And what is going to happen for the future of humanity?

I could go on, but I find these themes to be compelling… even if they appear against the backdrop of a very dark reality. But that is the nature of a space drama, isn't it? Where space surrounds, there always seems to be war and suffering. The specks of light against the black. There is light out there! Even if this Battlestar reality doesn't have a Time Lord appearing in the middle of things to talk sense into their lives. (But wouldn't that be just brilliant?!) It is still a story with a purpose, even if it is buried in the shock-value. All it requires is patience and the willingness to dig a little deep and cling to those specks of light wherever they appear!

And, by all means, temper it with the musings and wanderings of a Time Lord, his TARDIS and companions!


The Doctor (center) and his companions, Doctor Who Series 4
(Click on the pic to appreciate its full glory!)

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