Monday, December 26, 2011

Painting Stories ...

Sunday, December 25, 2011—Long Beach, CA

Having a fairly lazy Christmas day. I didn’t wake up until around ten, and then I just lay in bed reading for the next hour. Since getting up I’ve cleaned the apartment a bit, worked on some stuff for school, worked out, and I just finished on my day's Greek lessons (actually, when written down like this, my day doesn’t seem all that lazy—though it is my by standards, of late). I needed to relax a bit: I had a long Christmas Eve with the family over at my sister’s house, plus I’m not feeling that great—I think I’m fighting the edge of a cold.

It’s been a good Christmas so far: there’s no issues of note within the family and I didn’t receive, nor apparently have I given, any gifts that are off the mark. It’s also been good because nobody really went overboard on the gift giving. I like being with the fam and eating the good food that always comes down the pipe this time of year, but I don’t care for the commercial aspects of this season at all. We used to have a real problem in my family with smothering the holiday with overwrought gift giving. We seem to have gotten a handle on that, though, which has really improved things, from my perspective (for a lot of years I really didn’t care too much for Christmas). Tonight we’re going to top things off with what will no doubt be a great dinner at my aunt-and uncle-in-law’s house. Every Christmas, Bonnie, my aunt-in-law, picks a place in the world and cooks food from that region. This year she’s chosen Russia. I know very little about the cuisine of that country, but it should be interesting. If nothing else she’s told me we’ll be having caviar, which will be a first for me. I’m just hoping I can make it thru the night without this cold I seem to be fighting winning the battle. I often get sick around Christmas, mainly, I think, because it’s just after the school semester has ended and the stress and general wear and tear of the previous months finally catches up with me. I had to leave early one year, the year Bonnie did Indian food, which really pissed me off—because even though I was sick I was still really enjoying the meal. I’m crossing my fingers at the moment.

Between Greg having been in town and Christmas prep there really hasn’t been much time for much else. I did manage to burn my way thru a short book on the Barbary Wars, which has been interesting (I knew almost nothing about them going in). I’ve also still been working steadily on the first volume of Peter Gay’s two Enlightenment books. Reading a book on Plains Indians as well, as prep for a class I’m teaching. I ‘ve also been playing around—in an extremely small way—with the Greek book and an idea I have for a short story. Hopefully once Christmas has passed I’ll have time to really dig into them both—this forced hiatus from serious writing I’m going thru is really starting to piss me off.

Since I started working on the short story I just mentioned I’ve been playing with an old idea I’ve had for a book of short stories. For a long time I’ve wanted to experiment with writing stories that feature very little in the way of plot, of movement; I’ve wanted to write “stories” where the focal point in the feelings of the situation being described (or perhaps "essence" would be a better term for what I’m striving for). What I’d like to do is write short prose pieces that would take writing as close as it can go to painting, where the universe of the story is presented as a kind of crystalized moment (which in its composition of course implies all the moments leading up to the one being presented). What I guess I’m saying is that I want texture and color coming to the forefront, not for their owns sakes, but as the vehicles that carry the deeper aspects of the writing. I’ve always felt that viewing stories having a “setting” (or worse a “backdrop”) is a complete missing of the point. A story’s setting, in the end, is the story; a truly worthwhile piece of writing couldn’t possibly be divorced from the locale (in the deepest sense) in which it’s set. There are of course universal themes (all themes worth exploring are universal, I’d say), but there are flavors, routes of expression that come from specific places of origin—and these “flavors” are as much the story as anything that “happens” to any of the characters involved: if you can pull characters out of a story or transcribe its plot, you’re dealing with bad writing, the manipulation of stock characters and interchangeable scenes. All of this is a long way of saying that I want to “paint” stories, have the emotional-intellectual elements of the writing’s meaning be one with its compositional techniques.

I want to write Degas, in other words, Matisse, to be less obvious (and far more adventurous). Shit, I want to write Brice Marden if it’s possible (how would that even work?—I can give no reasonable answer, but I can sense it’s possible). I can’t be original in this quest, I know, but I also believe there’s a unique kernel in this little fantasy of mine, in my approach to this quest—which is more than enough to dream from, to write from …

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