Saturday, February 25, 2006

Minor thoughts--very late at night

First, adding pictures. Tomorrow maybe links!
Second, driving a friend home at 2 in the morning and realizing that the night belongs to the cabs and that the cabs are monsters, roaming the wilds looking for victims. Watched two run red lights, another make an illegal left and have one cut me off. All in the space of half a mile--GGRRRR.

Friday, February 24, 2006

DOG by Michelle Herman

I just finished this novel. It's copywrited 2005. There are two nice blurbs about how it's a nice metaphor AND a heartwarming story on the back by "hot" writers J.M.Coetzee and Nuala O'Faolain. It's only 188 pages long, and yet, I didn't like it. What's more I can't imagine why/how it got published out of the hundreds of thousands of manuscripts that slide across editors desks each year (and in case your wondering, it's not personal bitterness--I have never tried to get a novel published). No, it just didn't strike me as a very good story or one that was particularly well-written, or and here's the important bit--a particularly MARKETable one. It's not poorly written. The voice is clear and strong and the prose is pleasant. The description is sparse (well it would have to be in 188 pages) but I don't dislike it for that reason. The progtagonists are a woman and her dog. She is a middle-aged professor, transplanted from New York to the Midwest (much like the author herself, according to the back flap bio.), but unlike the author, this professor is not married with child. She is alone and she realizes around page 160 how alone and lonely she has been through most of her life until this dog comes into her life. She has reminisced although not fondly about past lovers through most of the book because she unconsciously named the dog Phil and realizes that her first serious lover was named Phillip. (She thought she named him after the stack of books by her bed, Roth, Larkin, among others). She got a dog because she was looking at websites about adopting a child and found instead sites about adopting a dog. Perhaps the author took the path the character didn't take--a child, not a dog. At any rate, she is isolated, arrogant about her intellect, fastidious and rather priggish. She has kept herself distant from the Midwesterners for 10 years because she is a New Yorker. (The other character, by the way, Phil, the dog, is a paragon of animal virtue. Housebroken in a day, quiet and intelligent beyond dogness.) Now, I have certainly read and enjoyed books about characters I would hate to meet in real life, but there is a certain something about this character that makes her unpleasant to me, and she is never redeemed. Certainly not in the brief crying jag at the end of the book. There is a certain something, an air of almost self-pity in the character that I find annoying, and what is more consider bad writing. A character may be terrible, may be self-pitying, may be a prig and completely lacking in self-knowledge, but the author must not be, and here I somehow feel that the author does not know that her character is all of these things--does in fact find her a well-rounded person who happens to be lonely. She feels sorry for her own character--perhaps because she identifies to closely. I will admit to starting a poem in college about a similar character--a dry poet who finds herself in middle age amongst lines on scraps of paper that never quite become poems and I was, quite rightly, warned off of continuing in that vein by my professor because of the self-pitying tone. Jean Rhys writes about weak, fragile, needy and clinging women which made me avoid her for years, but when I did read her last week I was amazed at her ability to present these women with a startlingly clear eye despite the fact her books were almost certainly autobiographical novels. You feel sorry for the characters and you may not even like them, but the image is so clear that you can in some ways empathize with them. Like many remarkable writers Rhys was able to be as a writer something she could never be as a person. You never empathize with this character. Part of the problem is the fact that she is completely alone. We only meet one other human and he is nearly a caricature. We hear occasional lines from her students, but never see the scenes where they are set. I'm all for experimentation, and breaking early rules but the fundamental rule of "SHOW, DON'T TELL" has not been broken to much purpose here. The idea that we learn about a character both by what we hear from his own head and from what we observe of others reactions to him is completely absent in this novel. It is, to me, a waste of time and space--amateurish, like a first attempt in a writing class. Which brings me to the other point--how did this get published? It is not traditional, it is not sensational, and it certainly not ground breaking. All I can think is that publishers thought the world was looking for books about dogs and so have obligingly put a photo of an appealing puppy on the cover, looking almost but not quite like the dogs from the DOG stickers and novelties with the fish eye lens rendering real puppies almost SuperDeformed. In contrast I recently read the novel, Saturday, by Ian McEwan. It takes place almost entirely inside the mind of a neurosurgeon in London on a single Saturday starting with him rising too early, and going to bed nearly 24 hours later. We see all of his interactions with others. We live with him through mundane and remarkable moments and in all we have a stunning portrait not just of one man, but of what it means to be human in the 21st century.
In another post I want to return to the idea of "autobiographical" fiction and literature in light of recent events, but that is for another day. As you may be able to gather by now, I don't have trouble thinking of things to write about, I have trouble thinking of a way to stop writing and go do other things!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Still Here

On the planet too. Interestingly, another friend of mine suddenly started blogging just last week. For similar reasons--to write something everyday. Perhaps we will inspire one another. She is far ahead of me--a theme and everything. When I have a chance I will add her to friends and do all of the nifty things one does--pictures, links, etc.

About me? Read lots of books, watch lots of movies. Work. Design sets and costumes. Yes, I am a designer, and an actress, and a writer. To say this out loud. Well write it out loud. Very difficult--makes strange things happen in my chest. And yet it's true. It's not an exaggeration. I've been paid for all of them.

Work switched so I became busier than I might have been when I first started this. It's a long story, but two jobs flip-flopped and one that was 1 and a half days a week became 4 days a week and the one that was 3 days a week reduced to 1 day a week. Needless to say, I had a lot more free time in the one that was 3 days a week (else how could I reduce it to 1).

"Being named this month's Miss August is an honor I will remember for as long as I can,"--"I'm a Blonde" by Julie Brown. I'm a random thinker. It's my strength--it's my weakness. The ability to think of Petra (the city), 80's pop songs and quotes from Churchill and see their connections makes me a good designer (I think). It makes me a frustrating conversationalist. More on that later. But the point (see, I almost lost it in the digression) is that I will try to commit to this as long as I can.

Music--my obsession is Hyde. A younger picture. From a recent concert. Neither of these are my favorite pictures, but they'll do for a start. He's my addiction, my crush, my guilty pleasure. How strange to have a crush at my age. Perhaps it's healthy--to be young at heart. Or it's pathetic--clinging to the trappings of youth. There's always at least two ways to look at everything. That's a topic for another day as well. There's a lovely quote I've got on my (unpublished) web page about daydreams being unhealthy if they stop you from doing what you should be doing. Well, I'm not being divorced or fired, but I've lost sleep. Hyde is a Japanese popstar/rockstar. Most people think he looks like a girl, but most have trouble denying that he sings like a man or that he sounds like an angel. He is a solo artist and the lead singer of the band L'Arc~en~Ciel (French name, Japanese band). They are pop. They are influenced by, grew up on and therefore sound like 80's pop--specifically the English invasion. They are popular enough and old enough (older than me--which shouldn't make me so relieved, but does) and respected enough to almost be the Japanese U2.

Love 80's English pop. Love Duran Duran. There I've said it. I've always said it with the head duck, half apologetic smile, as if it were sad. But I'm not going to do that anymore. That's what this blog is about. OWNING. I love Duran Duran and what's more I think that they are very talented. MORE TALENTED THAN U2. If anyone ever reads this I'll probably get flack for that.

Love old standards--preferably sung by the greats and not Carly Simon, but I'll listen to efforts. I have a fantasy about singing standards with a big band, getting in a cab and going to front an 80's cover band.

The impressionist classics--purists don't even consider them classical, Debussy, Puccini. "Everytime I hear Andrew Lloyd Weber I love Puccini more."

Books--any books, all books. It's easy and almost (but not quite) trite to say Dickens, Austin as in everyone does and what they mean is they saw it on Masterpiece Theater. A little harder to say George Eliot, Thomas Hardy. Had trouble with Henry James and put it down. Love Edith Wharton. Moving forward--Somerset Maughm, Faulkner. Not so fond of Hemingway but some of the short stories are interesting. Capote. I like the overwritten, overdescriptive. Bradbury over Asimov for instance. Sci-fi, but I'm a sci-fi snob--which is partially my husband's fault. I want it to be original and I want it to have a strong voice. Recent books read include Ian Banks The Algebraeist, finished Joyce Cary's trilogy with The Horse's Mouth. Contrary to the thoughts of the writer of the introduction, I liked it less than the middle one, but they are amazing separately and together. Books will be a strong theme.

Movies--I love movies, all movies, good/bad/weird. There are movies I hate after watching but I'll give almost any movie a chance. My one exception is stupid, puerile comedies. Think Pauly Shore. I don't even want to try there. But I'll try horror, romance, anything. Given nothing else going on I'd watch two or three movies a night. Netflix is the greatest invention ever--well, probably not, but it's fantastic for me. Recent viewings in no particular order--Run, Lola, Run; Nights of Caberia, Downfall, The Brothers Grimm, Infernal Affairs (subded not dubded--Hong Kong version); Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Liked them all--really liked Caberia and Infernal Affairs. Will try to write blogs on them. That is another goal of this blog.

All time fav. movies is hard but it includes Wings of Desire; The Fisher King; The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, and delicatessen. It's not intentional, but that would make a German, an American, a Brit, and a Frenchman. Japanese and Chinese would also make the list, but I'd have to work through a few to find the favorite. It's easier just to say directors than individual films.

Eclectic--that's what I am.