When spring insists on remaining winter, it’s wonderful to have such a rich arts week! So great for enlightening our own creative process…
In Lin Hwai-min’s “Songs of the Wanderers” performed by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, three and a half tons of rice stream down as curtains of golden rain, splash up in high gleaming arcs and, in falling, transform into the shifting sands of a desert.
An ancient tribe struggles through this desert, leaning on their crooked staffs which have what look like a little leaf or bird at the top but are in fact tiny bells.
To one side, a monk or Buddha figure in white. Eyes closed, hands together in prayer. A constant column of rain pings off his head and hands and white robes. He remains absolutely motionless. Surely a statue. No. At curtain call he receives thunderous applause for his 90-minute stillness.
- I tend to find my story as I write. But there are times to stop writing, be still, and let ideas, images, associations come. The pure stillness and meditation of the monk is something different, but it’s a good reminder to stop and breathe and be open to the “golden stream.”
Writing “as clear as water”
Philip Pullman writes that his purpose in re-telling “Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm” was to make them “as clear as water.” Fun reading!
- I find it hard to see complications and frou-frou excesses in my own writing but reading aloud usually shows me where I need to clarify or cut. This book offers a neat example of why it pays to keep writing simple, and why ‘simple’ does not mean ‘not lively’ or ‘not interesting’!
“Fairy stories […] loosen the chains of the imagination.” Philip Pullman in The Guardian
If 200 drafts is what it takes…
Reading from her new work at Concordia University’s “Writers Read,” Francine Prose said her new novel “Lovers At The Chameleon Club 1932” must have gone through at least 200 drafts.
- Always reassuring to hear this although I still dream of being able to speed up one day!
Masks and revelations
In Liz Magor’s “Carton II”*, a pile of folded clothes “…reveals itself to be something quite different, less acceptable and more troubling…” (a stack of cigarette packets)
The six self-portrait photos in Suzy Lake’s “A Genuine Simulation of…No.2″* are exactly the same, but each shows a different face, transformed by the application of make-up.
- The character I’m working on at the moment is a boy who appears to be very troubled and scary. “Obviously a sociopath,” said a colleague in one of my writing groups. “But he’s just a kid,” objected another colleague. I need to find – and show – who he really is beneath that objectionable ‘mask’.
- I mention earlier (Pullman) keeping writing simple. That doesn’t mean simplistic. Characters need to be multi-dimensional.
Childhood (images) as a source of inspiration
Louise Bourgeois creates a room out of 13 worn, paint-chipped doors for “The Red Room – child”*. Red hands clasping, enfolding. Pennies in a jar, hurricane lanterns, spools of thread of different reds, and of pale blue, a pair of mitts, one saying ‘moi’, the other ‘toi’, a flashlight….
“All my work…all my subjects, have found their inspiration in my childhood. Childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.” Louise Bourgeois
- There are certain images from my childhood that I’ve never actually used in a story, but I’m continually surprised by the way they inspire me. I won’t share them here if you don’t mind as I worry they will lose their power if I talk about them. Do you know what images are enduring and inspiring for you?
A fork in the path
(fun scene spoiler alert – do not read further if you haven’t yet seen “The Grand Budapest Hotel”)
In “The Grand Budapest Hotel” our heroes chase the villainous thug down a steep snowy mountain. Every so often the path divides…the baddie veers to the left. The slant of the slope (and movie tradition) strongly suggest the heroes will be swept off to the right. But no! Surprise, surprise, the heroes swerve to the left.
- The physical surprise and humor of this is hilarious. Of course it doesn’t have to be humorous, but following a thread in an unexpected way – as long as it’s logical for character and story – is very energizing for a narrative…and for a writer!
* These artworks are part of the exhibition 1 + 1 = 1 at Montréal Musée des Beaux Arts – until 15 June 2014