Sunday, July 18, 2010

What's in the basket?

I've been writing about the process of (a) generating ideas and (b) making choices between them to commit to. All of this goes under the heading, how to get started. I've done a little of the real work, which is actually sitting down and writing words that might be called a story or a poem, the first draft. But I've allowed distractions, courted distractions. Probably I should disconnect my computer from the Internet, because the availability of endless bits of information that might inform what I'm going to write is infinitely distracting. This blog, just writing to myself, is infinitely distracting. However, both the "research" and the free-writing about what I'm doing are necessary, it seems. But they can't be the whole pie: where's the fruit and what kind of fruit? Well, it depends on where the picking happens and by whom, right?

The decision I just made was to take one of our bedrooms -- which the kids used to use as their "chill room" -- as my office so that I get some some privacy, from others and my own distractibility. What could be better for the distractible writer who only half believes in his "quest" that the opportunity to discuss with this spouse the placement of furniture or the management of the budget, or to discuss with his children the sensitive balance between what I'm going to do for them and what they're going to do for me? And the view up there is better too. And, for chrissakes, I've been working for thirty years to pay for my own house etc., and here I am in closet, literally, a closet that was once a powder room. Now I just have to do it.

But back to the choosing from the hat, similar to the Hogwart's ritual, where the hat decides who you are and who you will be. Let me keep in mind also that one goal is to make half a living off this writing: a goal which deters any interest in writing a "literary" novel that nobody is likely to read or buy, if even publish, which is connected to my evolving personal taste. I read all of Roberto Bolano's 2666 last month and it was kind of literary, but mostly it was a mystery. I loved that book, it was just so full of interesting stuff and interesting events and people, and a good part of the mystery was, what in the world do they all have to do with one another? Had it just been literary, I would have stopped after about 100 pages, which is what happened when I tried to read Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence. It was lovely, but god it just went on and on and I didn't give a rat's ass about what happened to any of the characters.

Yesterday I finished reading Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer which was literary in many ways, but pretty interesting, though the less "real" it became toward the climax, the less engaged I was. It seemed inevitable that Shadrach would actually find Quin and kill him, and sort of Star Trek cliche that Quin would have reduced himself to a de-anthropomorphic blob, even though it made sense in the story. Another brain in a vat figure. I think I would have liked him to be Rudolph Valentino in the flesh, it would have been easier to kill him then. But all said, it was in its imperfection, a highly entertaining and stimulating read, and I'm looking forward to the next one. I don't think I'm capable of the sort of all-encompassing dystopia of Ambergris, and tend more toward the dystopic false Utopia or Brave New World of something like that -- God, does that mean I'll have to read Brave New World again. Clearly, as Hegel wrote, there's nothing new under the sun, or anywhere else either. That's comforting and frightening at the same time.

My futuristic dystopian utopia or utopian dytopia is provisionally called Danikiiwin, which is Ojibwe for community, or village, or town. Given such a setting, the genre is roughly urban fantasy or science fiction or fantasy, but I like to think of it more as an imaginary or alternate history. My Danikiiwin is an urban/rural location in the northern prairies (where I live now) some time after or next to the present. It is a post-petroleum world with a sort of communitarian/liberal government (of geographically separated city-states) grounded in the theory of John Rawls, "justice as fairness," and a policy of Service wherein young people at the age of 18 are assigned randomly an alternate physical existence with blocked memories of personal past and sent out to do service for some number of years, after which they are restored to their previous being. This experience is meant to inculcate Tolerance and Appreciation, for others and for other work. So, that while not subscribing to communism, but rather to an enlightened entrepreneurial liberalism, Service is supposed to dispose the Citizens to more enlightened and less rapacious individualistic behavior. My original plot, derived from a conversation over beer in Istanbul with Michael Merry and Alyce Kuenzli, had to do with what happens to a group of service workers, confronting the "realities" of Changing Back, of Corruption, of Identity, or the Outside. It sounds a bit like one of Lois Lowry's parables, which I've never particularly liked, but maybe this could be better, or less dated, or something, and a less moralistic. I don't really have an ideological axe to grind, or a political or ethical moral I'm dying to get across, or a desire to persuade anyone of anything. So, in this case, the structure could be more like Bolano. Anyway ...

But I could also, in the alternate history rather futuristic vein, do something with Breugel's Massacre of the Innocents, which is itself an historical imaginary, since it depicts the imagined despoiling of a contemporary (1560) Dutch village by the Spanish, under the guise of the biblical parable from Matthew 2:16-18: "When Herod saw how the astologers [three Wise Men] had tricked him [by not reporting back to him the child's location] he fell into a passion, and gave orders for the massacre of all children in Bethlehem and its neighborhood, of the age of two years and younger, which was the time he had been given by the astrologers [for the birth of the child who was to become king of the Jews.] So the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled: 'A voice was heard in Rama, wailing and loudly lamenting; it was Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing all consolation, because they were no more.'" 

Bruegel was born in the town called Bruegel in Holland, which could very well be the town where the children were massacred. It's between Utrecht and Liege, one of which is Belgium, and maybe Breugel was Belgian. Didn't he speak Flemish? What is this were a real even if magical event -- corresponding neither to the painting or the biblical verse -- and there was one surviver, Bruegel himself. Though of course every repetition is equally true (viz. Benjamin's theory of mechanical reproduction). So there's a mystery, there's a world or two of three to be made, there's some history.

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