Shaping words.

learning to write alphabet.

How often do you think about the various tools that you employ in writing?  There are so many that we take them for granted, and quite rightly.  When inspired, the words flow, and that’s the way we want it.

Remember when you were learning how to write?  You had to concentrate.  There was a correct way to hold a pencil, and to angle it on the paper.  Slight variations were possible, so some wrote with their left hand instead of right, and curved their wrist round their writing, as if shielding their words from sight.  Others gripped the pencil with three fingers and their thumb, rather than two.

Marking the page correctly, so that we didn’t press too hard and tear the paper, or so faintly that the graphite barely showed, came next.  Copying the letters, following the shapes, in the correct order, remembering where the pencil moved up, down or around, that was the big thing.

Tongues were trapped between teeth as we strove to copy the perfect symmetry of a printed alphabet.  I remember that such neatness seemed no more possible than that I would ever be able to mould a plasticine rabbit to match the one Miss Johnson pinched into shape for us.

Ancient Graffiti on the Face of Bishop Edmund Stafford by richard.heeks

Ancient graffiti on the face of Bishop Edmund Stafford.  Photo by R. Heeks.

I suppose I would have figured out my own way of copying the letters, if I’d had to.  So long as someone had taught me to read.  Making marks seems to be a part of our human nature.  But how much time I must have saved, having the logic given to me.

 

I don’t have a beautiful scrawl.  Over the years I’ve developed my own variations on the script Miss Johnson taught us.  I experimented, adding in fragments of copying from old books and my neater friends as I developed a fist all my own. Sometime after leaving school I stopped thinking that writing was about what the page looked like.

The beautiful notebooks that I’ve been given, or been unable to resist buying, are not filled with illuminated script, they’re not even tidy.  When my writing goes really well, I am not thinking about the pen or the paper, I’m following my muse, who seems always to be late, and in a hurry. Rather like the rabbit that Miss Johnson copied in plasticine from that nice Mr Carroll’s book, now I come to think on it.

Isn’t it amazing how stories are everywhere, once you start thinking about them?

 

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Why don’t we tell people, you’re special, more often?

David Bowie as Ziggy StardustI never bought a David Bowie record, but when I look back I find that his songs illuminate some key moments in my life.  It’s not something I was conscious of until this week, when I’ve been hearing fragments of his songs most days and found myself washed over with nostalgia.  Judging by the quantity of tributes across the media I suppose something of the same effect has been experienced by many of us.

Suddenly, we are discovering how artful his life was, even the ending, as it coincides with the release of his latest album.  Critics are analyzing his lyrics, thinking about the significance of who he was and what he created.  Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

Crumpling a newspaper to set up the fire this morning, I read fragments of scandal about this or that celebrity being proved to have the same clay-like feet as the rest of us.  For the successful, it seems this is the only alternative story to the reports of their death.

After all, this is journalism.  The definition of News is newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.  A problem for journalists is that they can only write the surface of a character.  Bowie seemed able to exploit this.  I’m amazed by how much I seem to know about him.

Alan-Rickman-by-Andy-GottOn the other hand, the actor Alan Rickman, who also died this week, and is someone I have looked out for in films and trusted to deliver quality entertainment, I knew nothing about until after his death.  Whether villain, hero or support, he convinced.

What made these two artists special for me, was their ability to convey characterizations.  To see either man perform was to believe them.

With Bowie, I’m reminded that scandal for the artist, is not about shock in the sense of a newspaper, which tends to reinforce our prejudices, it is about pushing us to look beyond narrow and easy perspectives.

Here’s an Alan Rickman quote that seems to sum up something of what the lives of both men stand for to me:

“The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible.”

 

Making a writing space

I’m still buzzing following a new venture for me, a writing day at a local art museum.  Working with a group of writers in a museum is something special.  I did a half day last year.

Last autumn though, I began to notice how often people in my groups were saying that they found it difficult to make time to write.  The problem?  Those displacement activities that I may have mentioned once or twice before in previous blogs…Check out Writing Blocks, for some further thoughts on them.

Then, early in December, as the last of my classes closed up for Christmas, several students commented on the long gap before our re-start in January.  I decided the time was ripe for something a little different.  I would structure a day for writers who wanted space to write.

DSCF6058 Now in theory, this could have happened anywhere that had tables, chairs, heat and the basic facilities, but, I thought, wouldn’t it be perfect if there was an inspiring backdrop?  After all, that’s part of the key to how the writing residentials have worked.   So, I phoned up Nature in Art and explained my plan.   They said yes.

What could be better?  A lovely historic house, lots of artifacts, an education room we could use as a base, a coffee shop where we could buy lunches.

Some of the group came with projects in mind, others were looking for inspiration.  The group included people who come to my classes now, or had done in the past, and people I’d never met before.  No one knew everyone in the room, but we soon got chatting.

What I provided, apart from some optional writing triggers, was time management & discipline.  I interspersed set writing periods with a variety of complimentary and contrasting activities.

And it worked: we wrote, we took breaks, we wrote.  We wandered through the galleries, we wrote more.  It was more than just a space to write, it was a place to meet others sharing our journey and compare notes, listen to new ideas, refresh old connections and make new ones.

DSCF6056

At the end of the day we got together and discussed our writing: we read bits out.  Everyone had pages to show for their day, including me.

 

Inspired readings…

I’ve been reading a short story anthology called The New Uncanny this week.  There’s no horror in the amityville sense, nor gallons of gratuitous gore.  These gems, as the subtitle suggests, are Tales of Unease.

the new uncanny  ...tales of uneaseIn varying degrees, they sent tingles down my spine.  Some happened as I read, others were slow burners that seemed fairly innocuous in content, but resonated hours later.

And if you’ve ever wondered where such ideas come from, then try looking at the source of inspiration for these stories.  Comma Press commissioned fourteen established writers to create stories based on Freud’s 1919 essay, The Uncanny.

That fascinating piece of literary analysis was inspired by a 1906 essay, The Psychology of the Uncanny by Ernst Jentsch.  Both essays based their investigations on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman, The Sandman.

Convoluted, isn’t it?  But personally, I like a few twists along the way, and I shall definitely be keeping a copy of the eight tropes Freud listed.  In case we don’t want to explore the essay, Ra Page gives us the ‘eight irrational causes of fear deployed in literature’  in his introduction to The New Uncanny (thought I’d best repeat the title, in case you’d forgotten what I started with).  I make no excuses for copying them out here, but I hope you’ll still go out and get a copy of this anthology.  There’s some lovely writing in it.

  1. inanimate objects mistaken as animate (dolls, waxworks, automata, severed limbs etc.),
  2. animate beings behaving as if inanimate or mechanical (trances, epileptic fits, etc.),
  3. being blinded,
  4. the double (twins, doppelgangers, etc.),
  5. coincidences or repetitions,
  6. being buried alive,
  7. some all-controlling evil genius,
  8. confusions between reality and imagination (waking dreams, etc.).

Tempted?