Curse of Cursive

IMG_0004 (2)

The Curse of Cursive
Wednesday Workshop
8 August 2018

It appears we will no longer teach cursive writing in our schools. Instead, we will teach our children to print. I will not pass judgement on this decision. Quite simply, my handwriting has always been bad. Very bad. I have never worked out why, but I suspect that it is because I think very quickly and my hand tries to keep up with my brain, and the result is the scrawl that I call my handwriting.

I type with two fingers, too, and stare at the keyboard as I am doing so. I tried to follow a typing course one year. I worked at it for two months. At the end of that time, I tried my touch typing examination and managed a rate of 78 words a minute with an accuracy of  82%. I did the same test with my trusted two fingers: 114 words a minute accuracy rate 98%. Oh dear. I still type with two fingers and I still write badly and no, my thoughts have not slowed down.

Just glance through the above photograph, taken from the journal I keep everyday. “Almas de Violeta,” it reads, “an early poetry book by Juan Ramón Jiménez, the Nobel winning poet, was first published in violet ink. I have a copy of his complete works, Obras completas, in which these early poems still appear in purple, or violet rather, to match the color of the title. He published in green ink too, but personally I prefer the purple. Bruised clouds on an evening sky, dark depths of a rainbow glow, Northern Lights singing at the deep end of their scale … or just a desire to be different … slightly different, as if that one thing, the color of my ink, might tip the scales and turn me from mediocre to celebrity with a wave of a violet wand or the click of a pair of ink-stained fingers.”

Now, wasn’t that easy! And there’s so much personality in tone and color, ebb and flow, the link of a poet to the words on his page.

Once, in a faraway library in a distant, magical land, I was studying an autograph manuscript, written by Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645). The hand-writing began very steadily. Then I noticed a red dot or two on the page. Then a larger stain. Our poet was a notorious drinker. The letters grew large and loopy. The paragraphs sprawled. Punctuation marks and accents, slashed and splashed, and missed their targets. By the end of his evening, with his bottle surely empty and gone, I could just about make out what the good man had written.

When I turned the manuscript folio, from recto to verso, it was a new day and the original handwriting was back, small and neat. I have noticed the same phenomenon when I write late at night. Unreadable words, occasional wine splutters, spelling and grammar mistakes, disjointed readability … but the thoughts and the ideas are still there, still clear. Sure, I need a bit of hard work to interpret some things, but that’s the curse of the cursive, I guess.

Revisions: Wednesday Workshop

IMG_0486

Revisions
Wednesday Workshop
27 June 2018

Below are the texts of a poem that I am attempting to revise. Any comments on the text(s) or the revision process will be welcome.

In Absentia 1
Princess Squiffy

I hear her voice, delicate, distant. I
run to the sound, jump on the table in
my usual spot by her plastic plaything.
She isn’t there. He is and he’s talking.

I can see him, smell him. I hate him, his
other sex perfumes, but there he is and
when he stops talking, I can hear her voice.

I move to his talk box. A shadow, I
can’t quite make it out, then her voice again.
My whiskers stiffen, I lean forward, sniff,
but no smell. She has no smell, and scentless,

I cannot sense her, I bristle, she calls
me by my favorite names, mews, and I mew
back in reply. But I can’t smell her. There’s

no sense of touch … is this the hell all cats
will suffer … shadows on a screen, a voice,
haunting, memories shifting and dancing,
nothing solid … just shadows and absence?

Problems:
Repetition of scents / smells, there, voice (4), plus avoid all cats

Solutions:
Seems easy to tidy up … but … how do I end the poem with I hate him? Would it make the poem stronger? It would man a total rethink and restructure. 

In Absentia 2
Princess Squiffy

I hear her voice, delicate, distant. I
run to the sound, jump on the table in
my usual spot by her plastic plaything.
She isn’t here. He is and he’s talking.

I can see him, smell him. I hate him, his
other sex perfumes. He stops talking. I
can hear her warm, sweet words: where can she be?

I move to his talk box. A shadow, I
can’t quite make it out, then her tones again.
My whiskers stiffen, I lean forward, sniff,
but cannot sense her. I bristle. She calls

me by my favorite names, squeaks, and I mew
back. There’s no sense of touch, of her presence.
Is this the way we all will suffer? Wood

burns. Firelight flickering, shadows on
cave walls, long gone memories revived to
haunt us. Are these the torments held in hell?
Will dark shapes shift on half-lit screens? Will the

memories of loved ones come back to taunt
us, haunt us?  Will there be nothing solid
in the afterlife, just outlines and absence?

First Revision:
I quite like it, but it has become much longer and the cat’s voice has either been conflated with the human voice at the end or it’s an exceptionally intelligent cat, knowing all about Plato,  unless those can pass as feline memories because she was in the cave with him.

In Absentia 3
Princess Squiffy

I hear your voice, delicate, distant. I
run to the sound, jump on the table in
my usual spot by your plastic plaything.

You are not here. He is. I can hear you
talk. I stalk to his noise box. I see a
shadow, moving, but I can’t make it out.

My muscles first tense, then stiffen. I sniff,
lean forward, but find no trace of female
smell. I cannot sense you. You call me by

my favorite names, mew at me, and I
respond. Shifting shadows, your haunting tones,
memories dancing to the music of

your absence. I can’t eat. I bristle when
he laughs. Where are you, my love? He doesn’t
care for me the way you do. I loathe him.

Second Revision:
This is much shorter, builds up to the proposed new ending, eliminates the repetitions, and replaces hate with loathe, a very catty sound. However, I have lost the ending that I liked so much: the suggestion of Plato’s Cave has now been lost. So, let’s head to Plato’s Cave.

In Absentia 4
Plato’s Cat Cave

Princess Squiffy

I hear her voice, delicate, distant. I
run to the sound, jump on the table in
my usual spot by her plastic plaything.
She isn’t there. He is and he’s talking.

I can see him, smell him. I hate him, his
other sex perfumes, but there he is and
when he stops laughing, I can hear her voice.

I move to his talk box. A shadow, I
can’t quite make it out, then her voice again.
My whiskers stiffen, I lean forward, sniff:
she has no smell. I bottle-brush my tail.

Envoi
by Plato

Firelight flickering, shadows on walls,
distant voices echoing, memories
perched on our shoulders, night owls hooting.

Is this the hell we all will suffer, shapes
shifting on a screen, voices taunting us,
memories dancing to half remembered
melodies, nothing solid, shadows, absence?

Third Revision:
This poem has now changed shape and direction. I quite like it but it is dependent on a knowledge of Plato’s Cave. Does the cat belong in Plato’s Cave … I think of Kipling’s Just So story The Cat that Walked … perhaps it does. Perhaps it doesn’t.

Decision Time:

Playing around with the text was fun. The text moved in several directions and now I must choose my final direction.

Comments on any of the versions or on the revision process I used will be very welcome. And yes, nothing perishes. My poems, like my cats, have nine lives (well, four in this case, with possibly a fifth to come).

My Favorite Book

img_0196

My Favorite Book

Last night, my writing group threw the table open for discussion on ‘my favorite book’. I listened as each member of the group came up with a title or two and then chose a book that was ‘the favorite’. When my turn came, I was last, they all turned to me, but I remained silent for a long time and then: “I can’t do it,” I said. “I bet it’s got windmills in,” one person remarked, thinking of my propensity of frequently quoting Cervantes’s Don Quixote as a model when literary discussions arise. Indeed, Don Quixote might be my favorite book, but is it?

Let us begin with the concept of book. Is a book something contained between two covers or could it be a series of books? For example, does one choose between The Chronicles of Narnia or must one select The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe over The Silver Chair? Is one free to choose The Lord of the Rings, or must one prefer The Two Towers, say, to The Return of the King? By extension, where exactly does The Hobbit stand, as a book, in book form, in relationship to the later and longer series? Or The Silmarion? Again, can we roll them all together, a series of books under the cover of one book, a favorite book?

The idea of favorite author versus favorite book then surfaced and we discussed Georgette Heyer, John LeCarré, equally loved and loathed, Jane Austen, the Bronte’s, J. K. Rowling, and William Shakespeare. The mention of Shakespeare led us into plays as reading material and plays as performance, and performance as on stage or on film. One of our members loved Shakespeare on film and TV, but didn’t like reading Shakespeare, because it was ‘difficult to read and needed the interpretation of the actor for the meaning to come across’. This same person did not like LeCarré’s books, but was very appreciative of his work on film. Where does George Smiley begin and Alec Guinness end, one asks? How can we separate the character from the actor? Applied to James Bond, who is James Bond? Is he Sean Connery (totally unique and my personal favorite), Roger Moore (better for me in the role of Simon Templar, The Saint), or one of the later and newer actors who have taken over the role? By extension, should James Bond be played by a black actor (why ever not I ask?), and could (oh horror of horrors!), a female actor take over that role (I’d love to see it … “I’m Bond. Jane Bond!”)?

This led us into the art of the narrative and the relationship between book as narrative and film as narrative. Clearly they are two different forms of media, but how do they influence each other? The book obviously comes first. We can talk of the seventeenth century novel, but it is difficult to talk of the seventeenth century film. So, the linear narrative of the book comes first and then that book is turned into a film. However, a film contains its own narratives structures and these include multiple points of view, split screens, flashbacks and time distortions, and a multiplicity of other devices among which the actual scenic impact is of the utmost importance. For most of us, the nineteenth century novel (no radio and no television for entertainment in those days) is long drawn out and very slow moving. We miss the instantaneous impact of screen and TV with the breaks for advertisements and the time to recharge our coffee cups and snacks. This leads us to our own attention spells as readers and our own demands for the instant gratification of a thrill a minute. “Hook them on page one and addict them by page three,” one person commented to many nods from around the table.

But the mention of Don Quixote also takes us into other areas. In this age of bi- and multi-lingualism, do we prefer to read our books in one language rather than in an another? Don Quixote in Spanish or French or English? And which translation? There are some twenty translations of Don Quixote into English. Is one preferable to another? Which is more accurate in the terms of a translation? Which reads more easily in terms of a re-creation in artistic form of the original? Should we prefer an English-English translation to an American-English translation? And where oh where is the Australian, Indian, Pakistani, South African, Canadian, Irish, or Welsh translator who will justify that famous text in his own country’s rendition of what used to be called the King or the Queen’s English?

Don Quixote, according to the great Spanish literary critics, is a book for the three ages of life. Readers should read it when they are young, when they are middle aged, and when they are approaching old age. Why? Because one’s reading and understanding of the book changes as one grows older. If this is true, then can we not expect to have books that we preferred at an earlier age in life, The House at Pooh Corner, for example, or The Wind in the Willows? And what about our early teens (adolescence), our early twenties (university years)? The idea of our being able to choose a ‘favorite book’ becomes less and less clear as we open up our minds to the broader horizon of tastes that change as we age and mature.

You will have noted that, with the exception of Shakespeare, we concentrated on the twin ideas of fiction and narrative, be it in word or on the screen. What about poetry? Five major critics met at the Modern Language Association of America’s meeting held one year in the University of Toronto and held a panel discussion in which they discussed why and how they had been attracted to the foreign language that they had studied. In four of the five cases, it was the poetry of the language, not the theatre or the narrative, that had pulled them in. Last night, we did not discuss poetry.

When we bring poetry to the table, we open a different discussion. We rarely read and appreciate ‘books of poetry’. With a few notable exceptions, it is individual poems and poets that attract our attention, rather than entire books or collections. And what is it about poetry that attracts us? Surely, it is the power, not of situation nor of action, but of language. It is the sheer power of language and the thrill of words that draws us to poetry. Perhaps that is why, in an age of impatience, we have less time for immersion in the magic spell of words and their undercurrents of subtle meanings. As a friend of mine said to me, the day before yesterday, “I started your poetry book, Obisdian’s Edge, but it was too deep for me, too difficult. I gave up on it. I needed something simpler to read.”

Comment: This article should be read in association with an earlier piece in this blog (15 July 2016) on My Top Ten Books.

Writing Groups: Thursday Thoughts

 

img_0186

Writing Groups
Thursday Thoughts
11 May 2017

We write in solitude.

We cannot group-write with a second person suggesting the second word and a third person, the third word. This leads only to the Third Word War or the Third Word Whore, as some would express it.

To write is to be alone. It is to sit alone before a blank page and watch it slowly fill with the black ants that we form into thoughts. With pen or pencil we trace the Morse Code SOS of our Mayday signals. We gather them into groups, press them between cardboard covers, and we send them out to sea in little bottles. Then we sit back and wait, hoping to contact intelligent and compatible life that will approve our efforts and perhaps offer to publish our writing.

We must not confuse the act of writing with the act of sharing.

In many cases, to share is to seek approval. But this is not always true. We sometimes share in the hopes that a listener will suggest improvements to our writing. I think of this as ‘sharing from weakness’. We are unsure of our sharing self and we seek confirmation and reinforcement. We also seek the reassurance that the second person or the third actually has a better vision than the writer and can improve that writer’s offering. How confident are we in our own writing when we constantly look for approval?

Sometimes, our sharing is in an act of defiance. We organize our black ant army. We form it into battalions. We launch them at the enemy and “Take that you bastards,!” we think as we read out our thoughts. Occasionally, our sharing is an act of self-praise. We know it’s good and we want others to realize just how good this piece is and how good we are. Auto-homenaje (Spanish): an act done in praise of oneself.

The act of sharing can be private and confidential. This is when we gather with a group of friends to share our thoughts and creations. This is most useful, in my opinion, at the beginning of a writer’s career. Writers have to become independent. They have to learn to shake off the shackles of doubts, second and third opinions, and the rewriting that comes from the mind of an outside reader. Writers have to learn to stand alone and to write alone. This is where the public reading comes in.

To read in public, as in an open reading given before an audience of unknown faces, is a different proposition. We are relatively confident when we share with our friends. We are not so confident when we read in public. We must be confident in ourselves and our words if we are to stand before strangers and expose ourselves, our strengths and our weaknesses, to those who may not love us and some who may actually hate us, looking for any defect, any chink in our written armor.

Beyond writing, yet enclosed within it, is the writer’s desire to be recognized and published. If we are writers, we want our works to be known and read. We want to be published. Even when we know we are not ready to be published or worthy to be seen in print, we like to imagine ourselves preparing that great tome or slender volume of verses that one day will project us into the realms of glory when it finally sees the light of day.

Yet we cannot publish alone. Or can we? Desk-top publishing on our own computer is easy to do. Format the work, print it out, take it to the photocopy machine, copy it multiple times, staple the resulting pages together and we have … a book. But are we satisfied with those morsels of paper that we hand out to our friends? Some people are, many are not.

Let us look at an alternate route: we hand the book over to a press that edits the writing, does all the copying work for us, chooses a cover, binds the book, gives us twenty free copies, and hands us an enormous bill … some are happy with that; again, others are not.

Let us examine another route: we find an online company that will do all (or most) of that for free. All we have to do is market our work … again, some are happy with that; others are not.

Mal de todos, consuelo de tontos. This is a delightful Spanish phrase. It means that when everyone is travelling in the same ship of sorrows, only fools are consoled by the fact that we all share the same fate. Perhaps that’s why writers gather together in groups and perch, like autumn swallows preparing to migrate, on chairs in a drawing room at somebody’s house or gather together in a disreputable, but cheap, coffee house to read, discuss, share, and endlessly talk about the works that never get published.

“You just got rejected? What a pity. I just did too. Let’s compare rejection letters. Paper your walls with them, my friend.”

The carrot that we all seek is the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end that contains the winning lottery ticket: a letter from a publisher offering to publish the book we have written. An Old Welsh Recipe for rabbit pie begins with these wise words: “First catch your rabbit.” The same wisdom must be applied to writers: “First, write your book.”

When the book is written, to the satisfaction of the writer, then, only then, let the networking begin. Then we can reach out to the community. Then we can read in public. Then we can seek out that elusive publisher and follow our own thirty-nine steps to success.

Bu, in the meantime, remember, never forget, we write in solitude.

Hyperbole: Wednesday Workshop

img_0177

Hyperbole

It is no exaggeration to say that Hyperbole is one of the most exciting and fascinating aspects of rhetoric.

At its most basic, hyperbole means exaggeration. When we start to explore the term, however, it means oh so much more.

Looking up synonyms for hyperbole, for example, we find the following: exaggeration, hype, metaphors, overstatement, amplification, coloring, distortion, embellishment, enlargement, magnification, PR, big talk, embroidering, laying it on thick, making a mountain out of a molehill, tall talk.

But let’s not stop there. Merriam Webster offers this as a definition: The representation of something in terms that go beyond the facts. “Enough food to feed a whole army” is a common example of hyperbole. Here are some more suggested synonyms, with a few overlaps: caricature, coloring, elaboration, embellishment, embroidering, embroidery, exaggeration, magnification, overstatement, padding, and stretching. Related words include: amplification, enhancement, fabrication, misrepresentation, fudging, hedging, hype, puffery, plum-mcduffery, and superlative.

The Power Thesaurus suggests that there are over 263 synonyms for hyperbole. It offers 14 pages of them. Here is the start of page one:

exaggeration / image, parallel, flower

overstatement / exaggeration, adornment, coloring

metaphor / exaggeration

embellishment / exaggeration, excess, decoration

distortion / exaggeration

magnification / exaggeration, fancy, line.

We could go on and on and on with this, world without end, secuale seculorum, for ever and ever, and all that, without exaggeration. The point is clear, we have more than enough definitions here to fill several rather large books and clearly, without being too catty about it, it would take at least nine lifetimes to read and understand them all.

Meanwhile, hyperbole possesses an adjective: hyperbolical. This is sometimes confused with the term hyperbolic which in turn is occasionally confused with the term hyperbollocks, as in the saying: “this article is, without embellishment or exaggeration, a load of hyperbollocks.”

Chuck Bowie comments: “Down the road, I hope we get to see your take on how to employ this useful tool without reducing the document to caricature.”

Roger Replies: Thank you for your comment, Chuck. I think that the application of hyperbole to a literary text or an image within a text depends entirely on the individual author. As authors and human beings, even in our daily speech and our interactions with other people, we can and do exaggerate. How we apply hyperbole to our structures and stories and characters is very individual. Clearly there must be a balance between emphasis (potentially good) and over-exaggeration (potentially bad, but with strong potential for parody and comedy), but so much depends on the individual situation. A stylistic analysis of each instance will reveal if the hyperbole is excessive. However, in my opinion, that necessitates the presence of a text, rather than a doctrinal theory about ‘how to do it’. The easiest way might be to analyze a text or two and see how hyperbole functions in specific circumstances. Certainly, as you so rightly note in the above comment, hyperbole can be used for comic purposes, as I have done in my article. Its overuse can both be criticized and parodied. An interesting study, with the seeds of a doctoral thesis planted therein, would be to demonstrate how, in Don Quixote, Cervantes moves from a hyperbolic parody of his character to a truer understanding of the essential dynamics of the main characters’ essential personalities. If I were fifty years younger, I might start that doctoral thesis.  Alas, within the self-imposed parameters of  this blog, there is neither time nor space. We can continue this conversation at our leisure. Thank you for responding.