the simsian review

Feb 24

Write to Live and Vice Versa

I don’t often listen to APM’s Writer’s Almanac.  Something about Garrison Keillor's fine voice is soporific and mixed with my lukewarm feelings about a lot of contemporary poetry, it doesn't tend to grab me.  Sadly, KUT plays it in the middle of my morning commute.

Today, that wasn’t quite so unfortunate.  I was only paying a bit of attention but the piece was about a poet in Princeton’s first mixed gender graduating class and her time spent after graduation studying Buddhism.  Eight years she spent studying Buddhism.  She did no writing at all during that time.

Jane Hirschfield, the poet, said the following: “I don’t think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life. And so I couldn’t just decide I was going to write no matter what; I first had to find out what it means to live.

I couldn’t agree more and I would extend that to most fictional writing.  Indeed, perhaps it should extend to all writing that attempts to concern itself with capital-T truth.

It was with similar ideas in mind that I stopped writing entirely at  the same age as Hirschfield.  I decided on a coin toss at age 18 that I really wanted to be a writer.  I don’t recall entirely what that meant to me at the time, but it was hopelessly romantic and nausea-inducing.  I wrote sporadically and in the mode of a true artiste through my undergrad.  That is to say, I wrote when the mood struck and thus very little indeed.

The result was that after four years, I had little practice and almost no experience of the world.  And so I put down my pen.

For four years, I wrote wordy, meaningless blog posts and literary criticism, but nothing really creative.  That ended almost a year ago.  On Spring Break (I work for a Uni and still get the week off), I took up the figurative pen and started writing regularly.  Since then, I’ve written somewhere around 200K words between two novels (well, one and a half so far), a few short stories, and numerous blog posts.  Among the many, many things I’ve learned in the interim, I found that the inverse of Ms. Hirschfield’s comment is just as true.  To write, one must live but to live, a writer must write.

It is between these antithetical platitudes that the writer finally becomes human.  It is in the grey places in between that the real work of empathy takes place.

Now that isn’t to say that non-writers are less human, only that they find their humanity through some vehicle incomprehensible to me.  I also don’t intend to say that I am some fully formed human from a year spent writing.

But I’m getting there.

Feb 19

(via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal) Mmm, MM! That’s some good ennui.
(EDIT: Not sure about the quality; click-through for better version)

(via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal) Mmm, MM! That’s some good ennui.

(EDIT: Not sure about the quality; click-through for better version)

Feb 18

wnyc:

Presented without comment.
-Jody, BL Show-
theclearlydope:

…wow

wnyc:

Presented without comment.

-Jody, BL Show-

theclearlydope:

…wow

Feb 17

My Answers: “Are you a literalist when it comes to the fantastic? Is ambiguity OK?”

The following brief and quite intriguing survey was originally posted to io9’s Observation Deck.  The writer asked that the post be shared around so by way of doing just that, I thought I might post my answers here as well.

1) At the end of Inception is it important to you to know if the top falls or not? Do you try to figure this out using the clues you are given or do you think the ambiguity of the spinning top is what the filmmaker wants you reflect on?

At the end of Inception, I felt that Nolan made the perfect choice of giving us the impression that the top could go either way. The consistent turn lends to one train of thought and the possible wobble another.  What I think is important is following each of those threads through to their results and ramifications.  Is it real or not?  Doesn’t matter.  What does it means in either case?

2) During the director’s cut of Blade Runner, Deckard has a strange dream about a unicorn. Is it necessary for this unicorn to have some concrete explanation or is it OK if the scene exists as something lyrical, impressionistic, or vaguely symbolic?

This scene has always felt like Scott’s attempt to invoke the empathetic importance of animals in the adapted novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.  Between these snippets and the “Tears in the Rain” soliloquy, it seems like Scott is trying to bring that underrated substance of the novel (IMO) over into the adaptation.  Even if that is the intent, I think the inclusion of the unicorn is pretty laughable.  The status symbol and symbolic meaning behind the animals make the novel for me and reframing Dick’s ethical and symbolic choices in the novel always left the film lacking for me.

None of that quite addresses the question though.  I feel making the unicorn scene more obvious or literal would serve two antithetical purposes.  First, it would make concrete the attempt I mentioned above.  Second, it would undermine the image and the symbol behind it and make the film weaker than I already believe it is.

3) In Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, Jack Torrance is locked in a pantry. He encounters the ghost of Delbert Grady on the other side of the door. Grady says he will let Jack out. The door opens.

By relying only on Kubrick’s film, is it absolutely clear to you that Grady or some supernatural force let Jack out of the pantry? Was Jack merely hallucinating and somehow got out by himself? Is it OK not to know whether either of these is true?

In Kubrick’s adaptation, King believes that his focus on the weight of alcoholism in the novel was dismissed for a Kubrickian maniac.  Towards that end, and assuming that was purposeful or is at least evidence of Kubrick’s influence on the story, I think most people who view the film are going to take it one way or the other.  Unlike the case with Inception, I don’t really think this question in the film deserves a devil’s advocate.  If you’re watching the film intent on the supernatural, there are bread crumbs to follow.  Likewise, if you see in it the deranged and an unreliable POV, there’s evidence for that as well.  We don’t need to know which is true.

4) Do you prefer viewing The Cabin in the Woods as a regular fictional world or are you more comfortable with it as a type of meta-fiction which only exists as a commentary on the horror genre itself? Is it OK if it is both?

It has honestly never occurred to me that one might watch The Cabin in the Woods as a pure fictional world.  From the very premise, it has always seemed a meta-fictional world operating inside the tropes and expectations of horror films to subvert and create an amusing and at times terrifying commentary on the subgenre.

But for that matter, I feel the same of the Scream films which are probably more transparently trying to function as regular horror and satire.  The bias here may be that I don’t like horror films on the whole.  I appreciate the tropes and clichés and I even enjoy some of the older ones, but most of the time they just upset me. It’s certainly possible for TCITW or the Scream series to function in both ways, but for me they never will.  It would actively take away from what I love about those movies.

5) In Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, do you personally need an explanation for HAL 9000’s homicidal behavior or do you like it better if left as one of the many mysteries of the movie?

In this instance, and only in this instance, I kind of wanted more of a straight explanation, and yet I’m marginally ok with the fact that Kubrick doesn’t give one.  This is based for me much more on the novel, however, and in the adaptation I feel once again that Kubrick’s interpretation deserves examination on its own merit. 

Clarke’s novel is one commonly identified as hard sf that I actually like on that definition.  I tend not to care about how “hard” sf is and when works are touted on that designation first and foremost, I steer away from them.  Right now, Andy Weir’s The Martian is being talked about everywhere but it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth time that I heard about the book—this time in a science related interview with the author—that I finally took a shine to it and a lot of the reason is that the first several kept harping on how good the science is without saying much else.
So, with a bit of a digression, I have to say that while I wanted the film to explain it, in the Kubrick frame it makes perfectly good sense why it wouldn’t be and why, despite my wishes, I have to be ok with that.

Feb 12

A Burden of Conciousness

WARNING: The sketch below is self-indulgent drivel, but I feel moderately better for having written & posted it.  Do yourself a favor and pass this one by.

Read More

Feb 11

Minor Updates

I feel I haven’t written on writing for a while, so here are a few updates.

Side notes: I think I need to reevaluate my routines.  I may be clinging to some too stringently and forgetting to enjoy myself when the opportunities arise.  As a result, I think I do some things too automatically.

I’m always present-minded, but I think I fail to actually live in too many moments.  I realized over the weekend, while writing Non-standard Deviation, that I sometimes find contentment in doing the same things, but I rarely find joy.  It’s certainly worth evaluating.

For today, I’m torn between seeking distraction—my cousin in undergoing emergency surgery following an untreated infection—and focusing on this problem of being.  I have a relatively short amount of time during which I really ought to be soul-searching.

I’m sure this was a joy to read.

Feb 10

“Bad books on writing tell you to “WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW”, a solemn and totally false adage that is the reason there exist so many mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery.” — Joe Haldeman (via wordpainting)

Feb 08

Non-standard Deviation

I don’t often post original content on the weekend.  Tumblr views are down and few people have their dashboards loaded on a screen in front of them.

Today is a two-beers-at-the-same-time kind of day.

I don’t tend to accept excuses for not writing.  I make them, but I don’t except them.  I might procrastinate on Tumblr, imgur, reddit, feedly, and Twitter, but I don’t totally give into the temptation not to write.  Sometimes, you just want to experience a day comprised only of the things you want to do with none of the things you need to do.  But I don’t.

I do what I need to do.  It’s a matter of discipline and my discipline is one of my personal traits in which I take a great deal of personal pride.  Though many compliments make me feel uncomfortable and undeserving, I make no qualms over accepting compliments in this regard.  I have slowly cultivated a discipline to be proud of.

And I think I’m breaking it today.

It is a terrible thing when the activities and ideas that bring you solace in difficult or indifferent times stop working.  There are few things as existentially uncomfortable as trying to retreat into or distract yourself with some media or game or pastime only to find that you want nothing to do with it.  Perhaps that isn’t quite right.  It isn’t quite a matter of want, but rather one of ability.  You can’t lose yourself in that story, that game, that film, that trail.  Instead, what once provided—at worst—a distraction or—at best—a pure immersive or transformative experience now holds no greater attraction than the driest actuarial text.

It’s an unsettling feeling and not one you would wish on many.

Today is one of those days and I very much hope it is a matter of days, rather than weeks … months … and so on, and so on.

I took 6 days away from the second novel to work on a somewhat introspective short story and only returned to it a couple of days ago.  I don’t know that I will write on the novel today.

It isn’t a matter of can’t; I can always write garbage.

It isn’t a matter of want.  I would like nothing more than to disappear into creation for a hour.

It’s a matter of will.  For the first time in a long that, the will is lacking.

Hope this finds you well.  At least better than I.

Feb 06

(Source: think-progress, via ilovecharts)

Feb 04

Wild Seed: A Brief Review

I have expressed on many occasions my interest in Octavia Butler’s work.  She was one of my early favorites, one of the topics of my thesis, and yet I have not read all of her novels.  I’ve been spacing them out a bit, saving my next first read for little bit later but just recently I dove into the last of her series.

Or rather, I dove into the first of her series.  Years ago I began with the Parable novels, last year I read books 2 & 3 of the Lilith’s Brood series, and now I’ve finally made it to the Patternist series.  If Wild Seed is any indication, I think it will be my favorite.

However, I am forced to reason that it may not be.  When researching the best order of the novels, there seemed to be some consensus around reading Wild Seed, the first chronologically but third published, first because it might be a disappointment after the apparent majesty of Mind of my Mind.  Then again, many said the same of Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebus, and while that novel isn’t The Culture at its peak, I still loved it.

All of that is to say that after some research, I decided to read according to narrative chronology.

True to the consensus, I loved Wild Seed and am highly curious of the next novel.

Wild Seed introduces Anyanwu, a centuries old healer, to Doro, a millennia old migrating spirit.  One is highly communal, filial, and compassionate while the other is drive to kill at need and breed those with similar, but subordinate, powers.

Each wants nothing more than the connection only found with people like themselves.  The novel follows from their meeting in the late 17th century through to the late 19th as they become entwined in one another’s very existence.  The process is gradual and truly unexpected yet between these vastly dissimilar characters, a need arises for the other, the nearest approximation either has ever experienced to the conditions of their own experience.

Beyond the character and the story, far larger ideas are at stake.  Wild Seed is an in-depth examination of racial and gendered power politics that brings to mind the most pressing questions of contemporary modernity without offering any easy answers.  Likewise ideas of fitness and eugenics are explored without the narrative falling towards the didactic.  The reader gets the impression that perhaps the young Butler (33 at the novel’s publication) was not yet ready to attempt answers at the questions of power and need but felt an overwhelming need to ask them anyway.

Reviews of the subsequent novels in the series seem to indicate that the wish to present but not answer these questions continues throughout with a mix of reactions.  My list of favorite novels is absolutely littered with morally ambiguous and problematic novels because I believe that asking the right questions is far more important than finding answers to the wrong ones.  The wrong questions will lead the interrogator towards a belief that something fundamental is understood while the right questions will humble her and, one hopes, force an appreciation not just for what which we understand but also for that which troubles us every waking moment.

As I move on through the series later in the year, I’d like to reflect on differences that crop up between the novels and the types of questions asked as well as the manner of asking, but for now I just have to lend Wild Seed my recommendation.