Writing

A Typical Morning

The wake-up alarm I’ve chosen for my phone is the sound of various bird songs, as though in the forest. There’s a bird call on the phone that sounds identical to a species of bird I hear each morning outside my bedroom window. Sometimes I hear the live bird before my alarm goes off, and I think it’s the alarm. I open my eyes and realize it’s the bird outside in the tree, not the one in my phone, and I try to go back to sleep. Sometimes I can. Other times my mind starts to work on things. It starts to work on problems and tasks and events coming up. I lie in bed thinking, taking advantage of the time before full wakefulness when it feels like I’m made of mind only and can think without distractions. It’s the only time of day when that’s possible.

The dog hears the alarm and knows what it means and leaps onto the bed. If I don’t protect myself, he’ll lick my face and stomp all over me. I grab him and hug him, and he wags his tail. Most dogs would just as soon avoid being hugged by a human, but he likes it. I ask him if he wants to go outside, and he flies off the bed, crouches, wags, and waits for me to go out and open the back door. Then he launches himself on a high-speed yard patrol, in case a cat or a squirrel has infiltrated.

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While the dog is tearing through the yard making his 45 pounds sound like a charging rhinoceros, I like to put my fingers on the keyboard and see what they do. I keep a Freewrite on the tall breakfast table, so I can go to it right out of bed, before my brain is fully awake. Look–I’m doing that now, looking into a literary mirror.

The nights are sometimes long and difficult. Everything is better when the sun is up and I’m moving again. The dog is no conversationalist, but he’s my friend, and he never says anything foolish or ignorant. His points of view are well known to me on a wide range of subjects, many of which I agree with. Raw carrots are tasty. A quick run through the neighborhood in the morning before the sun rises above the treetops is good. Walking in the evening is good. Yowling cats in heat on the fence outside the window at night are bad.

He and I disagree on minor points such as how one should behave in the presence of another dog’s excrement, whether it’s alright to hang one’s entire body out the window of a moving automobile, and the degree of sexual attractiveness of the human leg.

Each morning, by 8:30am, a murder of crows has occupied the top of the pine tree. They drop things into the yard. Chicken bones, egg shells, aluminum foil. The dog is interested, but seems to smell crow on these things and doesn’t try to eat them. The crows’ calls are less pleasant than the bird songs I hear before daybreak. They seem to be arguing among themselves or taunting the dog and me. I stand on the back patio, watching them watch me. I sip coffee. They turn their heads sideways and direct one shiny black eye on me at a time, as though their left eye provides one type of information, and the right another. Infrared, perhaps. I am slightly fascinated by crows, but I don’t imagine that they’re my friends. If I lie still long enough, I know one of them will eventually try to take one of my eyes.

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Two Writers Walk into a Bar

Writer 1:

I’ve been writing freelance ads while Rome is burning.

Writer 2:

Keep on playing’ the fiddle…

Writer 1:

Yes, sir.

Writer 2:

We’re looking more like ancient Rome than ever.

Writer 1:

Yes, we are.

Writer 2:

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” Attributed to Mark Twain, but who knows.

Writer 1:

We may extinct ourselves before we’re able to destroy our governments. So that would be something we haven’t done before. I’m so cynical.

Writer 2:

I’m trying to resist becoming cynical, but that just makes me angry at myself. I want to write words that burn peoples’ eyes.

Writer 1:

Yes. I need to get myself together to write about it all. I feel helpless. As though my voice doesn’t matter. But that’s not right, right?  We have to resist. We have to fight. However we can. If that’s then pen, then that’s what we have.

Writer 2:

The pen is the first choice.

Writer 1:

Wonder where the best place to live would be while our Republic falls.

Writer 2:

It might not be all bad. Rome eventually became the capitol of one of the great western European states. Of course…they had to endure the Dark Ages first.

Writer 1:

I mean, where can we get clean water, access to food, and be physically safe? Christ, I sound like a right-wing doomsday prepper from when Obama was elected.

Writer 2:

That’s a shift. Now it’s us progressive-thinkers considering digging backyard bunkers.

Writer 1:

All the wackos got from worrying about Obama was free health care and a stable economy and low gas prices and low unemployment. Haha! We are so screwed.

Writer 2:

We’ll go down writing. Some of us may go down fighting.

Writer 1:

Maybe love will prevail? Maybe we’ll get through it without the destruction of the whole country?

Writer 2:

Let’s hope, but also work for it. What I’m most afraid of is that good people lose hope and completely withdraw from participation in the process.

Writer 1:

It’s easier to step out of the fray.

Writer 2:

I wonder if Democrats will bother to vote at all in the next election…if there is a next election.

Writer 1:

Most people over 55 will be silent.

Writer 2:

That’s the trouble with the left — in general, they’re soft and sensitive. In other words, “snowflakes.” The right is tough, mean, and organized. And they don’t care if they have to crack heads to make their version of progress. The law of the jungle doesn’t work in favor of compassionate thinking.

Writer 1:

What do we do? Run for school board? I mean, seriously. I’m not a politician. Do we really have to become political writers? That feels out of my league. Then again, if an ignorant reality TV celebrity can be president of the United States, nothing’s out of anyone’s league.

Writer 2:

People have to want civilization.

Writer 1:

I want a peaceful society. Not a warring, angry one.

Writer 2:

I want the same, but wars don’t care what people want. Societies have a will of their own that’s completely separate from the desires of individuals.

Writer 1:

Keep your head and arms inside the vehicle, and enjoy the ride.

Writer 2:

But if we lean to the left or right just a bit, without falling out of the car, maybe we can influence it just enough to keep it from flying off the rails.

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Reading Journal #1 William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, from Novels 1930-1935 (The Library of America, 1985)

I’m deep-reading and annotating two novels per month and choosing a topic to discuss as a requirement for the University of Tampa MFA program. Since I’m often at a loss (for time) for blog content, it seems like a good idea to post the contents of my reading journal here.

The latest creepy novel I read was Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. It struck me as a weird coincidence that I chose this book for the same month as Kiesbye’s Your House Is on Fire. The two have their similarities. I enjoyed Kiesbye’s novel much more than Faulkner’s. Yes, I said it, and it’s true. Some books you keep and read over and over. For me, As I Lay Dying isn’t one of those. Having said that, I did learn an effective and artful technique from Mr. Faulkner for character development. Here’s the spiel, which may not tell you much if you haven’t slogged through the book. (Spoiler Alert)

Topic:

    The Effects of Overlapping Narrators in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying: Three examples of how showing the same scene from different points of view adds depth to the narrative.

Darl’s Departure

Excerpt A: Cora, p.17

“What you want, Darl?” Dewey Dell said, not stopping the fan, speaking up

quick, keeping even him from her. He didn’t answer. He just stood and looked at

his dying mother, his heart too full for words.

Excerpt B: Dewey Dell, p.18

“What you want, Darl?” I say.

“She is going to die,” he says. And old turkey-buzzard Tull coming to

watch her die but I can fool them.

“When is she going to die?” I say.

“Before we get back,” he says.

“Then why are you taking Jewel?” I say.

“I want him to help me load,” he says.

Comment:

According to Cora, Darl says nothing, whereas Dewey Dell’s is an account of a telepathic conversation between her and Darl that reveals the intimate nature of their relationship, Darl’s knowledge of Addie’s impending death, and a load of baggage about Dewey Dell’s sexual encounter with Lafe in the ‘secret shade’ of the cotton field, all communicated without spoken words.

Addie’s Death

Excerpt A: Peabody, p. 31

Behind us the girl says, “Paw.” I look at her, at her face.

“You better go quick,” I say.

When we enter the room she is watching the door. She looks at me. Her eyes

look like lamps blaring up just before the oil is gone. “She wants you to go

out,” the girl says.

“Now, Addie,” Anse says, “when he come all the way from Jefferson to git

you well?” She watches me: I can feel her eyes. It’s like she was shoving at me

with them…I leave the room. Beyond the porch Cash’s saw snores steadily into the board. A minute later she calls his name, her voice harsh and strong.

“Cash,” she says; “you, Cash!”

Excerpt B: Darl, p. 32

He [Anse] stoops laying his hand on hers. For a while yet she looks at him, without reproach, without anything at all, as if her eyes alone are listening to the irrevocable cessation of his voice. Then she raises herself, who has not moved in ten days. Dewey Dell leans down, trying to press her back.

“Ma,” she says; “ma.”

She is looking out the window, at Cash stooping steadily at the board in

the failing light, laboring on toward darkness and into it as though the

stroking of the saw illumined its own motion, board and saw engendered.

“You, Cash,” she shouts, her voice harsh, strong, and unimpaired. “You,

Cash!”

He looks up at the gaunt face framed by the window in the twilight. It is

a composite picture of all time since he was a child. He drops the saw and lifts

the board for her to see, watching the window in which the face has not moved.

He drags a second plank into position and slants the two of them into their

final juxtaposition, gesturing toward the ones yet on the ground, shaping with

his empty hand in pantomime the finished box. For a while still she looks down

at him from the composite picture, neither with censure nor approbation. Then

the face disappears.

She lies back and turns her head without so much as glancing at pa. She

looks at Vardaman; her eyes, the life in them, rushing suddenly upon them; the

two flames glare up for a steady instant. Then they go out as though someone had

leaned down and blown upon them.

Comment:

    From Dr. Peabody’s limited and reproachful point of view, his work as physician is finished the moment Addie banishes him from the death room. He is outraged that Anse Bundren waited until it was too late to call him and horrified that Cash would work on Addie’s coffin a stone’s throw from her bedside window.

Darl’s account, despite his physical absence, is full of his perception of the meaning of the scene to everyone present. He appears to know their hearts by the same preternatural power that allows him to see Cash’s reaction to Addie’s voice and the light snuffing from her eyes.

Carrying the Coffin from House to Wagon

Excerpt A: Cash, p.62

It won’t balance. If you want it to tote and ride on a balance, we will have–”

“Pick up. Goddamn you, pick up.”

“I’m telling you it wont tote and it wont ride on a balance unless–”

“Pick up! Pick up!, goddamn your thick-nosed soul to hell, pick up!”

It won’t balance. If they want it to tote and ride on a balance, they will have

Excerpt B: Darl, p.64

We carry it down the hall, our feet harsh and clumsy on the floor, moving

with shuffling steps, and through the door.

“Steady it a minute, now,” pa says, letting go. He turns back to shut and

lock the door, but Jewel will not wait.

“Come on,” he says in that suffocating voice. “Come on.”

We lower it carefully down the steps. We move, Balancing it as though it

were something infinitely precious, our faces averted, breathing through our

teeth to keep our nostrils closed. We go down the path, toward the slope.

“We better wait,” Cash says. “I tell you it aint balanced now. We’ll need

another hand on that hill.”

“Then turn loose,” Jewel says. He will not stop. Cash begins to fall

behind, hobbling to keep up, breathing harshly; then he is distanced and Jewel

carries the entire front end alone, so that, tilting as the path begins to

slant, it begins to rush away from me and slip down the air like a sled upon

invisible snow, smoothly evacuating atmosphere in which the sense of it is still

shaped.

“Wait, Jewel,” I say. But he will not wait. He is almost running now and

Cash is left behind. It seems to me that the end which I now carry alone has no

weight, as though it coasts like a rushing straw upon the furious tide of

Jewel’s despair. I am not even touching it when, turning, he lets it overshoot

him, swinging, and stops it and sloughs it into the wagon bed in the same motion

and looks back at me, his face suffused with fury and despair.

“Goddamn you. Goddamn you.”

Comment:

As he does in the one previous instance of his narration on page 53, Cash states the bare physical facts of the situation. He is establishing that he warned the others of the imbalanced state of the coffin, and that they ignored him. This short section under Cash’s name ends abruptly, mid-sentence, as though once the coffin passed the tipping point and fell, he simply moved on to the next problem to solve. This chapter reveals Cash’s mind as logical and methodical—in no hurry to rush to conclusions and unable to understand why others act rashly. He doesn’t comment on Jewel’s swearing, only on the inevitability of his prediction that his mother’s carefully crafted coffin “won’t balance.” Cash makes the point that the coffin is unbalanced because Addie’s body was wrongfully placed upside-down in the box to avoid crushing her dress. Perhaps he is upset and expressing it in the only way he can, by calmly stating one more fact.

Though in Darl’s account, he urges Jewel to wait, Cash isn’t aware of Darl’s attempt to help, only of Jewel’s angry impatience. It isn’t in Cash to think of the details Darl shows in his account of the same event.

 

The Takeaway:

Like the differently colored lenses of cinema 3-D glasses, each scene with narrator overlap creates depth. Faulkner’s maddening head hopping is the price we readers pay for such profound character development. By the end of the novel, we know each of the characters more thoroughly than some of our own family members.

In my opinion, Faulkner’s relentless changes of point of view were too much to endure for enjoyment alone. However, a deeper reading reveals the art beneath the confusion. I suppose there is no requirement for great art to be easily accessible, and I found this revered novel nearly unintelligible on the first reading. It was during a second trip down the road and across the river with Faulkner that I gained an understanding of the nature of each of the characters and their relationships.