quick review: at swim-two-birds

FlannO'BrianAtSwimTwoBirds.jpgSpending more and more time before getting to sleep at night reading and trying to re-develop my focus. And I decided to work on Barthelme’s syllabus and suggested readings. And O’Brien’s book At Swim Two Birds was a challenge–rather a maze of a book. A labyrinth, to steal from Borges. Have to admit I put the book away again and again.

What I enjoyed: I liked the meta-fiction and idea of a book about writing a book about writing a book. And I most enjoyed the idea of characters being developed by a writer–or I guess more specifically an un-skilled writer. And I enjoyed the idea of those characters turning on the author. It is telling I guess that I completely related to the idea of the lazy writer and student. I also like the idea of Gaelic mythology mixing with the author’s reality of writing a book. What I didn’t like: overly clever and overly cute opening.

When finally finished I was feeling a James Joyce vibe and thinking of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. A parody of Irish styles of storytelling. A post modern version of Joyce’s modernist Irish style.

hating writing

In the article “10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing” from The Huffington Post, Bill Cotter discusses his “dark feelings” regarding what he labels as “the commission of the act of writing.” He lists quotes from famous authors revealing their angst on the very act of writing and he also discusses the problem of his own inarticulateness. And I must agree when Cotter jokes he would rather go to the emergency room rather than have a writing commitment.

And the more I teach the more I empathize with my first year students and concerns over writing and composing essays. I often say their concerns as writers are very similar to my own. Even in creative writing, my chosen field of study, I feel students have a point when they complain over drafting basic components of a short story assignment. I am just as susceptible to internet distractions and slothful tendencies. And I often dread approaching the work of revision.

Currently, I have a novel I’ve been wrestling with. I also have a novel I’ve been chipping away at for years. And perhaps the more you know about writing the more you are jammed up. The more I teach and learn the more I am self-critical and also I over-think the simplest of revision exercises. And maybe I am just reaching the age of worry over my talent if I have any and the limitations of talent. Perhaps subconsciously I worry about not fully developing as a writer. More and more I have broad stories with broad notes–more free writing really. And I struggle just to get my broadest thoughts down on the page regarding scenes or characters. Sometimes I just type where I want a character to go or what I want them to do and I have no way to get them there. I often say that writers suffer more from inarticulateness than most others. Lately I’ve been joking I would rather work with dogs or own a bed and breakfast than sit and work. I’d rather sit and watch MST3K.

This all reminds me of a George Orwell quote:

“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”–George Orwell

Perhaps the difficulty of writing–the illness in composing and revising–is what makes it great. PS: It took me hours to write this.

 

Aside

Day of Dead Felicia OlinSat down today–all day today–working towards an August 15 contest deadline for my Semi-Orphaned manuscript. Here is a quick excerpt:

Animales

Neto was over on the bed shirtless and crudo, shaking his head at the reality of missing his father’s funeral service, when he raised both arms to smell his pits. He started digging in his jeans for a comb and pushed at his dark hair.

This was all in 1983, before the winter ended. I remember Neto often visited from New Mexico to the Abuelito’s home on Spruce Street in Huerfano, Colorado and slept off his drunks.

“There’s a lot of folks upstairs waiting on you, I said.

When he saw it was only me, he kicked off his sneakers and dropped his soiled pants and bent over in the posture of a small child. His nicotine stained fingers shoveled down the plate of rice and beans I had for him. He coughed and spat to the basement’s concrete floor.

“You the only Ortiz worth a damn left alive in this neighborhood,” he complained.

His clothes were in two great big garbage bags and he stood still a minute as I dragged his only collared shirt out from under his stash of nudie magazines and fungus-looking weed.

I put his clothes down deep in the washing machine and asked out loud if he was my father.

“Listen to what I say, Manito. I can tell you this. Born into this world alone and die alone,” Neto went on half-drunkenly. “Family will leave you. Women will leave you. All you have is your own damned self.”

semi-orphaned aug 15 deadline