Monday, April 30, 2007

Homes and Gardens and Bestiality- and more memoirs/biographies

The house has been on the market for about 4 weeks now and we will have our fourth showing tomorrow. It's the same response over and over again: It's cute! but the neighborhood sucks!

However, if the house does sell soon, there is a nice old house on Lilac on about 1 1/2 acres that really could be a forever house. The house was built in 1860 and would take a lot of elbow grease to get it where we want it. But, there's alot of room to roam both inside and out and it's close to the river.

Gloria and I were working on the yard yesterday and we decided to let the dogs hang out with us. They were catching rays and we were working when some weirdo drove by and said "Can I fuck your dogs?". It took me a second to realize what he said because I was listening to the Blues Revue on 88.1 but I could tell from the look on Gloria's face that she was disturbed. What does it take for someone to say something so ridiculous?

I can't get away from reading memoirs. I'm currently reading "Bento Box in the Heartland". It's Linda Furiya's take on being Japanese and growing up in Indiana and how she uses food to understand her situation. Pretty good so far!

Also checked out a huge artbook about Henry Darger. He was this outsider art/ folk art guy from Chicago. He was a janitor by day and painted watercolors and made collages by night. Really interesting, intriguing stuff. I can't wait to read it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

And we're back

Thanks to all of the new folks who've been checking out the blog- Bienvenidos!

Just turned in my final portfolio- I want to give those stories one more lookie before I start submitting again. I think they're pretty good, but I find myself, now that I finally understand revision (to a small degree- something is better than nothing) wanting to gut my stories. That's too much like starting over. I have to learn to curb my cravings and allow any new ideas I get for old stories to become new stories. But I believe I now know where books, novellas, and really good short story collections come from and no it isn't from having sex with the computer. Those things come from asking questions and more questions and then more questions until there are no more honest sincere answers to give or you run out of questions. But I can truly see some of my characters really coming to life in a book. No book attempts however until I publish a couple of short stories.

Damn, writing is hard work.

Anyway, I expect to start blogging here once a week and be more disciplined about it.

Oh yeah, I gradute on Tuesday, May 8 from Indiana University-South Bend with a degree in English- writing concentration.

I plan on staying on at the Library and hope that a better position will open up. I have been asked to job shadow at the reference desk and I hope this is a good thing/sign.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why I write

Here's the essay I wrote for my personal aesthetic assignment. I don't think I quite fulfilled the requirments, but I really like what I wrote (or maybe my caffiene goggles are on too tight!).

Sometimes the Magic Works

Ok, so I stole the title for this essay from Terry Brook’s excellent memoir based on his writing life. However, I’m pretty sure that I heard somewhere that if someone else has said something you’ve always wanted to say, but they said it better, than it’s ok to say what they’ve said. And so, this leads me to the purpose of this essay. My literary aesthetic and purpose for writing are deeply informed by my grandfather. I inhabit the same storytelling place as he does, mostly because it’s the first one I ever visited, and consequently, it’s the one I feel most comfortable in. I try to use the same paintbrush as my grandfather, just not the same paint. Where his stories approach life’s teachings using the spoken format, my stories seek life’s teaching’s using the short story. And in this format I seek to use what I’ve learned from him: I draw on the power of a strong image conjured by simple words to ensconce emotion and knowledge into the mind of the reader in the hopes that my themes will resonate deep inside.

I can still recall, with vivid memory, sitting at my grandfather’s elbow at the kitchen table on any given Sunday, and listening to him tell stories from his life in Mexico. I remember his massive brown hands moving like a conductor’s baton keeping time over his gruff voice: loud, dissonant, silent, tender, etc. He told adventure stories, fantasy stories, ghost stories, work stories, death stories. He told them as though they were true, as though they happened yesterday, and I took them as such. Sometimes his stories happened to him, sometimes to an uncle or a cousin, but always there was a lessoned to be taught and a lesson to be learned. His stories created a certain space in time where beauty sprung forth from horror and wonder could birth wisdom. As a child his stories held me in a trance from which the powerful magic of images could work into my soul and later be drawn upon when needed. My literary aesthetic comes from this place.

In my writing, and more obviously in my grandfather’s stores, there exists what Joseph Campbell would probably call the “hero’s journey.” What appealed to my grandfather, I believe, and to myself, is the idea that these “heroes” could teach the listener/reader truth. These truths reveal themselves as the character commits trials and errors in an attempt to quell some desire or nagging feeling; a journey of self discovery. After the hero gets to know himself better and is aware of his needs and society’s demands, he is then able to negotiate a path for himself. Joseph Campbell gained much attention for his work after he discovered this basic story telling element in the diverse myths of the world’s cultures.

But why is this “truth” so important? Personally, it’s my own hero’s journey that I am on when I write. This is a journey that I must take to discover who I am in a world where my insides don’t match my outsides. I cannot recreate the life my grandfather lived: cowboy, railroad worker, farmer, laborer, etc. My grandfather had the luxury, if it can be called that, to act and make mistakes and to learn out in the open world. I, on the other hand, have the luxury of sitting on my ass to read and write and not worry where my next meal is coming from or if someone is coming to steal my land out from under me. I search for my truth’s then in the open world of my mind and in the shared knowledge of all those storytellers who have come before, and I struggle to make their hard earned lessons fit my modern psyche.

The themes that my “heroes” tend to explore include culture clash/mash, familial obligation in a self-centered society, class structure, and the divided self. Growing up with a foot in two cultures (Mexican and American), I was in a position to feel the effects of two places struggling to invade my senses; one world was internal and the other external. The internal world was created by my Mexican family: the food I ate, the language I spoke, the traditions I followed. . . and the external world was created by American television, public school, white and black childhood friends and their families. This created a dichotomy within me that, at any given moment, seemed to battle for control. Octavio Paz once said that the Mexican-American was like a pendulum swinging back and forth between two worlds; he insinuated that we would never be at rest, never find peace. However, much like the Chinese idea of Yin-Yang, I tried to get both sides to coexist; the tortillas next to loaf of bread at the dinner table. But this was a Herculean task and in all of the negotiating and peace making I developed strong powers of observation as I witnessed my two worlds collide over and over again.

The protagonists in “A Season for Bears” (ASB) which I wrote last year, and “Juice and Kookies” (JK), are both young Latino males growing up in the Midwest, far from the influence of their homeland. Mijo from ASB is gifted student who feels the obligation placed on him by his Mexican family and white teachers to use his talents to “save his people” as an oppressive sensation. He feels that the world is “pressing down on him.” Mijo’s black sheep Uncle Gonzo arrives at a critical point to allow Mijo to shed the weight of obligation and to allow himself the freedom to be who he wants to be. Junior, from JK, also tries to discover who he is as he clears mud from his eyes that is placed there by his family (work hard, measure of a man, help your family, etc) and the American world of privilege and adolescent sex.

The language I use in both stories purposely seeks the meaningful, profound image that emerges from the observations of the characters. In JK Junior is witness to “plump and purple skies”, “crying walls”, and a painted fragile sailboat in the middle of the sea. In ASB, Mijo sees “shadows dancing on walls”, “eyes that talk”, whispers that hide their speakers, and questions that “disappear into pockets.” By using these images I hope to convey that what the characters are seeking (self discovery and a place in their world that will allow happiness) can be an elusive, abstract thing if you don’t know what you’re looking for in the first place. All the characters know is that they feel like they’re being pulled in a million directions and they don’t know why, and what I hope these images, and the language I use to create them, will create the same sensation in the reader.

Some could argue, I guess, that really the magic I’m describing, and the techniques my grandfather used, are the natural consequences of living in a society that values Magical Realism as a genre. To invoke the powers of the strange and the wondrous for a character to reflect upon can be an easy way to get your point across. However, I feel that, even though I approach that point, I try to not indulge in it. I am happiest when I am able to have my characters create the magic inside of themselves (via language and images), where it is available only to them and the reader. And by allowing the reader to view this magic, I involve them in a way that is intimate, and therefore, hopefully, make the story and its truth meaningful while spanning cultures, gender, beliefs, etc. This internal magic also allows me to find the truth of the character and hopefully the truth that I seek.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Some Neruda

We are the clumsy passersby

by Pablo Neruda

We are the clumsy passersby, we push past each other with elbows,
with feet, with trousers, with suitcases,
we get off the train, the jet plane, the ship, we step down
in our wrinkled suits and sinister hats.
We are all guilty, we are all sinners,
we come from dead-end hotels or industrial peace,
this might be our last clean shirt,
we have misplaced our tie,
yet even so, on the edge of panic, pompous,
sons of bitches who move in the highest circles
or quiet types who don't owe anything to anybody,
we are one and the same, the same in time's eyes,
or in solitude's: we are the poor devils
who earn a living and a death working
bureautragically or in the usual ways,
sitting down or packed together in subway stations,
boats, mines, research centers, jails,
universities, breweries,
(under our clothes the same thirsty skin),
(the hair, the same hair, only in different colors).

Another Paz Poem

Between going and staying the day wavers
by Octavio Paz
Between going and staying the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.

All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can't be touched.

Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.

Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.

The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theater of reflections.

I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.

The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause.

Writing. . .ugh!

I've been suffering lately from "Senior-itis" (which should not be confused with "The Itis" which is something totally different). I'm only taking one writing class this semester and it only meets once a week, but I can't seem to focus, or frankly, care much about it.

But here are some thoughts on my process:

I haven't written anything new in a while but I finally have a grip on this whole revision thing. I have learned this semester that I write to help me understand some "thing", not just to be clever or share a story. Previously I thought I wrote because I had something to say, but now I realize I write because I have something to learn. (Sure that sounds arrogant, Welcome to the School of Me: Everything I Write is Law, Dogma, Truth etc.). So I write a story and then it takes on a life of its own. The story becomes a "thing" in and of itself that must be dealt with, wrestled, made to obey. For the story to work successfully, it must be made more fluid, and the Idea that I was chasing/sharing/understanding must be brought into a sharper focus. That's when it's time to take out distractions, filler, other crap, etc.

This extraneous stuff comes from me having a vague idea of the Idea. So as I'm writing and searching I get a vague impression of what I'm truly trying to understand. I've been told my writing has a certain mysterious quality about it and I think this is where it comes from. I don't notice it really until someone points it out, and, hey, I can't help not enjoying mystery since I was raised by a hard core Roman Catholic and indoctrinated into the Great Mystery blah blah blah you get the idea.

So I think I'm closer to understanding my aesthetic. Or am I?

Today's post doesn't contribute much to the greater good, but it gives me a good start for an assignment due today.