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.), as if 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”

Thinking Writing

…in which the writer thinks about writing more than the writer actually writes…

I do this all the time.  Thinking about writing is probably more pleasurable to me than actual writing because it doesn’t involve any of the work.  It’s like, when you’re planning a trip and the whole lead up to and planning of the trip gives you more satisfaction than the actual trip.  Same thing, to me at least.  I think about writing before I go to bed, while I’m in the car, on a walk, when distracting myself at work… Thinking about writing is my daydreaming.

When I think about writing, I’m not just thinking about sitting down with a pen and paper and how and when, but I’m thinking about characters and stories and traits and worlds.  I create protagonists and villains, dystopian worlds, problems and actions, that all live in my head.  I write whole novels in my head that will never see paper.

This isn’t a “problem” in the grand scheme of things; like I said, this is how I daydream, pass the time, let my mind wander.  It keeps me from running actual real life problems over and over in my head.  But it doesn’t get me anywhere closer to being a writer.  It doesn’t give my stories life.  My creative energy is wasted on a loop with no exit.

It’s easy enough to say, I’m going to sit down and write.  It’s like going to the gym or eating healthier, where there is a lot of thinking about it, and not a lot of actual doing.  I’ve written about this conundrum before.  Sitting down and writing is not always fun, it’s work goddammit, work that I’m, for some reason, totally enamored with and work that I find myself not actually working on.

But I’ve been doing a lot of that thinking writing lately, so that means I need to re-examine my time and hunker down for some good writing.  It reminds me of a Mary Oliver quotation that haunts me.

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative
work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to
it neither power nor time.”

Most days, I try and push this quotation to the back of my mind, forget about it, unread it, because who, with a 40 hour a week day job, and a new home to finish, has the time to push aside “real life” for the solitude of creative work?  Most days, pushing the creative side away works.  Most days, I can get by in this way.  But then, a particular drive in the car gives me a particular thought and my mind spins and whirs again with story.

Is it ever really possible to forget our creative sides?  It may not be fulfilled by an art per se, maybe you do get that fire filled by your day job or you do have an outlet for it, and maybe it’s possible that there is no creative yearning…  But those who feel it, you know what I mean.

And so I find myself with only one solution: to write.

There is time, it is possible.  It has to be.

I finally watched Lady Bird.

…like, a year later, but I finally watched it.

My expectations were super high for “Lady Bird” because the internet loved this movie and because how could all of those award noms be wrong?  This was advertise as a story about a strong female character, and I’m definitely here for that.  I wanted to like this movie, love this movie, be inspired by this movie.  I wanted a fresh story about a young woman going after her dreams and achieving.  Just the day before watching it, I texted my girlfriends to say that I wanted to see it “v badly.”

Halfway through the film, I realized I hated it and cringe-watched it to the end.  This film is an awkward mix of “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Garden State.”  It has the same kitschy vibe and, in “Lady Bird’s” case, it makes it feel too structured.  Lady Bird’s reality is so perfectly teenage-early-aughts that I didn’t believe it because it feels completely curated.

Lady Bird is, by far, the least interesting character in the film.  Sure, she insists on everyone calling her Lady Bird, but why?  Where did the name come from?  She had plenty of interesting views that Greta Gerwig (the writer/director) just gave her.  I found Lady Bird vapid, shallow, and ungrateful, all the worse because, unlike her popular “friend” Jenna, she has no idea that she is those things.  Wouldn’t someone who wants to be called Lady Bird have a strong enough sense of self to not give a shit about the popular kids, and think it’s cool to give a shit about the school’s drama production?  I’m officially sick of the trope of the nerdy cool girl ditching her real friend(s), wanting to be popular and liked by everyone, and it being passed off as a “coming of age” story.

I wanted to know so much more about her mother, her adopted brother, the real reason why her brother’s girlfriend lived with them, her sad drama priest, Julie, what happened when Danny came out and so much less about Lady Bird, about whom, as it turns out, there is not much to know.

Lady Bird has no struggle in her life.  The actual worst thing in her life is that her mom loves her too much.  But Lady Bird hates her mom so much, she throws herself out of a moving vehicle.  Why wasn’t that attempted vehicular suicide ever mentioned again?  Lady Bird’s mother, a psych nurse, should know a cry for help when she sees one.

Sure, Lady Bird’s family is “poor,” and true poverty can be tough.  Unemployment and collective family trauma can be tough.  Yet, Lady Bird is so disconnected from her family’s narrative that she, behind her mother’s back, applies for college across the county.  Of course, she makes it to college in New York City and that’s where Lady Bird’s final bits of “growing up” happen.  The ending is hollow and brief.  Ultimately, I felt there is no reason for her to hate or love Sacramento.  It was such a huge part of the plot, but with no supporting information about it.  We never got a sense of Sacramento beyond the fact that we are told that Lady Bird hates it (and then, also that she loves it).

“Lady Bird” is nothing new.  Lady Bird is another manic pixie dream girl, another John Green female supporting character, another hipster claiming originality.  “Lady Bird” is another “Girls.”  I will allow that if this movie wasn’t so hyped, I might have enjoyed it, but “Lady Bird” is old hat.