La belle fleur sauvage

La Belle Fleur Sauvage is one of my favorite Lord Huron songs. The title means “the beautiful wildflower.” It has the pathos of an anti-love song; the flower does not deign to be partnered with a man.

What you're looking for won't be found easily
It grows upon the mountain in a sacred place
Up beyond the clouds, in ancient ground, so they say
And many men have died trekking up that away

What motif has been more captivating to the male mind than a beautiful, dangerous woman?

The song, though a favorite, can be read as problematic. It is about a man who would be the one to pluck this women-flower, and, when he dies, he wants her lying by his side in his grave.

Once he's gazed upon her, a man is forever changed
The bravest men return with darkened hearts and phantom pain
Ages come and go but her life goes on the same
She lives to see the sun and feel the wind and drink the rain

I prefer to focus on the eery imagery describing the woman.

She reminds me of the Loreley/Lorelei, a siren legend born on the shores of Germany’s Rhein River. The myth was derived from a particularly perilous curve of the river. Dangerous not only because of strong currents, but also because of the echoing effect of one bank’s steep rock face, which was named “Loreley” in part from the German verbs lureln (to murmur) and lauern (to lurk, lie in wait). There are many forms of this myth, but Heinrich Heine’s poem “Die Lorelei” immortalized her. A statue was erected to commemorate her spirit.

The fairest maiden is sitting
In wondrous beauty up there,
Her golden jewels are sparkling,
She combs her golden hair.

She combs it with a golden comb
And sings a song the while;
It has an awe-inspiring,
Powerful melody.

It seizes the boatman in his skiff
With wildly aching pain;
He does not see the rocky reefs,
He only looks up to the heights.

I think at last the waves swallow
The boatman and his boat;
And that, with her singing,
The Loreley has done.

The Lorelei lurks there, even still: the last major wreck was in 2011.

A beautiful wildflower, indeed.

Why I Stopped “Morning Pages”

Have you ever heard of morning pages? They are one of the basic tools laid out in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I recently had a writing instructor recommend her students read the book and begin the practice.

The morning pages practice is simple: rise early each day to write three pages “of longhand writing, strictly stream of consciousness” (10). One should use the space/time to get the gunk of life out of one’s head, down on the page, and move on from there. The book has many examples of the miracle of morning pages, about students who had started the practice and found success in their professional field, crediting morning pages for the breakthrough.

I was completely enamored with the idea. It was presented that if I could just journal for three pages every morning, well, then I’d start writing in a meaningful way and actually become a writer. Though I already had a pretty consistent journaling practice, this was a more structured take on it.

Since last fall until about two weeks ago, I was very dedicated to the morning pages. I would wake up at four AM before my twelve hour shifts to journal. I would journal on my days off my day job. I would sometimes write more than three pages. I would pull a tarot card and use that as a prompt. I felt very productive.

Can you guess what I wasn’t doing? I wasn’t writing anything creatively. No inspiration appeared “seemingly out of nowhere” (17). In fact, my morning pages turned into me writing that I was anxious about not writing. I was talking myself through it being ok that I wasn’t writing creatively. I was making excuses, writing, ‘well, at least I’m reading a lot right now.’ I would journal and then think ‘ok well there’s that writing done for today…now to go do my work/errands/chores/exercise/etc’ with no space left for the writing that I actually wanted to produce!

I talked this through with a writerly friend. About how journaling/morning pages was actually holding me back from writing. About just doing the damn thing and actually writing. I decided to say fuck it to morning pages and put my journal aside.

That was a week and a half ago.

Since opening up that time in my life — and giving my headspace a break of the ‘checked box’ that was morning pages — my creativity and desire to write creatively has grown. I still get up at four AM on a work day, but now I produce story. I read more short stories. I’ve nearly finished my own short story. I am doing. And that’s the real miracle.

I sailed The Starless Sea.

I read Erin Morgenstern’s first novel, The Night Circus, years ago. I liked it. I can’t say I loved it, because I don’t remember it that strongly. Having read The Starless Sea, I question if I enjoyed The Night Circus at all because Morgenstern’s sophomore release isn’t That Great. I wanted to love it.

The story doesn’t make sense. It’s written with a non-linear narrative, but I’m a sucker for a juicy, well-written non-linear narrative, so it wasn’t that. It was that nothing and no one had a motivation or basis in the novel.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is the protagonist, which you know because his full name is repeated as the first words of the majority of the chapters, bludgeoning readers with his Importance. His tag (“the son of the fortune-teller”) is also oft repeated. Zachary Ezra Rawlins walks along kind of letting things happen to him for some unclear reason. Around page 150, I questioned if this novel was any good, because I didn’t feel connected to the protagonist or his motivations. There are multiple repeated symbols (bees, keys, swords, hearts, crowns, honey, owls, cats, the moon, etc.). I felt that they are symbols because they are repeated, and because they are repeated they are symbolic. The symbols are used in a universal sense, but they end up being meaningful only in very specific ways to Zachary Ezra Rawlins and his love interest.

Morgenstern is often cited as a wordsmith, and fans love her writing style. I found it irritating. She tries to say so much that not much is said at all. Words just to be words are not helpful. There is no basis to the melodic prose and it makes the story nonsensical.

The story gets interesting in the last sixth part (the novel is divided into VI books). Here, a secondary character, Kat, who has been absent for most of the novel, reappears to give backstory. Yes, it’s the whole non-linear thing, but the reader has been slogging along with clueless Zachary Ezra Rawlins this whole time not knowing why. Kat is an interesting and useful character. She has motivation, and moves the story along in a meaningful way.

I will grant that perhaps I didn’t “understand” the novel. Perhaps the lack of motivation is part of the theme of the novel (something something about fate and fortunes). Zachary Ezra Rawlins studies Emerging Media (video games), and he and Kat dialogue about Choose Your Own Adventure type games and narrative (Morgenstern herself is a gamer). Perhaps him bumbling along his adventure is part of the theme of the novel as well. It’s possible that Zachary Ezra Rawlins knows he’s supposed to do something because he read about himself in a book, again bringing about questions of fate and choice, but none of it is dissected or concluded in a satisfying manner. Book VI made the novel alright. The nearly 400 pages of luxuriant, comma-filled, pop-culture laden prose led by Zachary Ezra Rawlins, who I didn’t care about, wasn’t great.

…but I called it.

I’m taking an online writing course which includes bi-weekly assignments, which, since this is only the second week, I believe, includes regular prompts for free writing.  Here was the assignment for last week:

“Write a story using that phrase as your first line and include a twist at the end. Keep your story to 300 words or less. Write as tight as possible, that is, really select words with care. Trim out the extras. Add dialogue.”

Admittedly, I didn’t add much dialogue, but I like how my little story turned out.  I love to read character driven apocalyptic/dystopian sci-fi but rarely get a decent idea in that genre, so I was pleased that this idea showed up.  Who knows, maybe there is more here!

I’ll be sharing my assignments here as we go along. Continue reading “…but I called it.”

The Muse Works When You Do

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Hilma af Klint

I just spent the weekend in New York City.  Kara, one of my best friends/travel buddies, and I explored the shit outta that town.  We traipsed and Lyfted our way from Spanish-Italian cafe to French bistro to Korean small plates through Central Park, to the MoMa and Guggenheim, in search of great food, beer, coffee, art, ice cream, and pizza.

What always blows my mind about travel, beyond the obvious benefit of ‘seeing the world,’ is the doors it breaks down surrounding my creativity.  Which is an easier sentiment to have while listening to the Dark Side of the Moon and contemplating Hilma af Klint than sitting in my robe in my bed back home.  It’s a fleeting feeling I’m constantly yearning for, yet what I learned on this trip is creativity is not actually one fleeting moment.

Continue reading “The Muse Works When You Do”