Thursday, March 30, 2006

That's when I noticed...

So, I'm trying to read more, right? I've got these books on my plate (some are re-reads):

Farewell, My lovely by Raymond Chandler
The Trial by Franz Kafka
The Plague by Albert Camus
Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murakami

What do I notice about my attempts to be inspired and mired in literature?

Only one of those authors wrote in English.

Monday, March 27, 2006

My Writing Process

I think one of the reasons I am having so much trouble writing lately is that I haven't been reading enough. At all. Lately I've mainly been reading blogs, the
news, and knitting patterns. None of which are particularly inspiring in the fiction genre.

An example of how I write without having read in a while, and how reading helps.

Ok, so my heroine has just arrived in a new location, better describe it.

The building was big.

Oy vey. We can do better than that.

The hotel was tall.

Chorus: How tall was it?

The hotel stretched into the sky until clouds obscured the top from view.

Wow. That is tall. Ok. But it needs more.

It gleamed -

Don't use 'it'!

The imposing building reflected bright beams of sunlight into our heroines eyes.

Ouch. Ok, how does she feel?

Suddenly -

No suddenly's.

Every instinct in her body told her this was not a place she wanted to enter.

Ok, so what does she do?

She enters.

We can do better than that. Except now we're tired of writing this description, and it feel like it's taking to long. So, it's time for cliche.

Heart and feet heavy, she wearily entered the building.

Now, a recap.

The hotel stretched into the sky until clouds obscured the top from view. The imposing building reflected bright beams of sunlight into our heroines eyes. Every instinct in her body told her this was not a place she wanted to enter. Heart and feet heavy, she wearily entered the building.

It certainly is a description. Now, lets see how one of my favorite authors describes a similar scene:

"I didn't know the way exactly and part of me worried that I might miss the place. I didn't. How could anyone have? It had been transformed into a gleaming twenty-six story Bahaus Modern-Art deco symphony of glass and steel, with flags of various nations waving along the driveway, smartly uniformed doormen hailing taxis, a glass elevator shooting up to a penthouse restaurant. A bas-relief of a dolphin was set into one of the marble columns by the entrance, beneath which the inscription read:

l'Hotel Dauphin"

And it goes on. Contrary to what you might think, reading other peoples writing actually frees me, rather than depresses me. It reminds me:

1) While it may take you forever to write 3 sentences, it does not take the average adult that long to read them. Don't base your pacing on how long it takes to write.

2) Writing is not an A-B-C procedure. If you follow some self-imposed formula everytime you write a description it'll be both boring to write and boring to read.

3) With that in mind, be creative, have fun, don't be afraid to write something and have it not make sense. You are allowed to edit it later.

4) Don't be afraid of long sentences.

5) Be interesting. Don't describe things in cliches.

And finall.

6) I'm totally allowed to write things like I did above to get them out of my system, but I must fix them in post. Because I can write more better.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Writer's Pigeon

I've hit a bit of a block with my writing. I got a new job. I got sick. I see friends.

It's more than that though. I have wonderful ideas. Fantastic visions of a story I know I want to write. When I sit down though, it doesn't come out at all like I want it. Even this post feels stuttering in comparison to the flow of words I want it to be.

One of the many things I've been doing lately besides writing is watching TV. Tech Support has ... acquired ... some BBC Comedies. Amungst them is a show called "Dark Place", about a horror writer who for a time in the 80's had his own TV show. Of course since it is a comedy the show and his writing are just terrible.

Every episode opens with our horror writer reading a bit of his novel, pretentiously, out loud. For some reason the opening to the third episode particularly hit home:

"The moonlight shone down on the place, unhindered. The gnarled parapets jagged upwards like a bony hand with icy indifference. In the background there was a pigeon. Who knew how long the place had stood there? 40 years? 50 years? Tempus immemoria, i.e. always? But it was a bad place, that much was certain, a very bad place indeed."

For some reason the line "In the background there was a pigeon" hit me particularly hard. It's hysterical to be sure. And it's a perfect example of how my writing has felt lately. How it feels even now.

Sara is struggling to make complete, interesting sentences. In the background there was a pigeon.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Romance in Unlikely Places







I consider "The Office" to be one of the most romantic stories of all time.

"The Office" is a 1/2 hour long an episode, six-episodes a season, British mockumentary about office life. The main goal of the series is to make the viewer as uncomfortable as possible, and maybe laugh a little. Human insecurities and fallacies are laid bare and humiliated. All romance, warmth, sincerity, and sentimental emotions are ruthlessly dragged from their homes and beaten to death. And it's funny.

How could that be romantic?

Well, in the midst of all the barren cold wasteland of mid-sized company in Slough, England, is Tim and Dawn. Sometimes in the forefront, sometimes in the background, they are the two likable characters floating in a sea of awful drones. Their relationship is a spot of warmth and humanity.

The agony is that Dawn has a fiance, Lee. A big bruiser who works in the shipping department of the office, downstairs and away from the main happenings. Anyone can see he's all wrong for Dawn. He's not supportive or sensitive, or even terribly nice. But he is considered rather good looking (not my type really).

Normally that sort of romantic entanglements drive me nuts. Why would a sane girl like Dawn go for such a jerk? But of course we've all had friends date people who were asses for far to long so I accepted it. Dawn's not perfect, and why dump Lee only to risk the unknown with Tim?

And lets face it, Tim is not the best catch. A rather downtrodden young man with no friends who hates his job but will probably never leave it. He has a sense of humor and a strong wit that make him adorable, but perhaps his push-over nature does look bad in comparison to Lee's strong (overbearing) nature. He certainly doesn't look very tough in comparison. The episode where it's Tim's birthday and he ends up forlornly wandering the parking lot of a bar without shoes (someone tossed them on the roof for a bet despite Tim's protests) comes to mind.

For two seasons and twelve painfully embarrassing, and funny, episodes Dawn and Tim flirt and keep each other sane. Their unrequited love playing against an absurd backdrop of office shenanigans. In the second season, when Tim finally branches out and dates another co-worker and you can see just how devastated Dawn is, it hurts. When Tim dumps the girl because he's latched once more onto the impossible hope that he might be able to date Dawn, you cringe. But you smile again with them when they trick the oblivious, ridiculous uptight Gareth into saying he jerks men off.

Still, at the end of the season everything ends horribly for just about everyone. Tim makes a final (second) bid for Dawn, and she rejects him in favor of moving to the US to marry Lee and become an illustrator.

I was heartbroken. So was Tim.

The Christmas Special that came afterwards is an unabashed fan service, and perhaps even an apology for ending everything so bleakly.

Dawn it seems has been stuck in Florida taking care of Lee's sister's baby (which for one heart-stopping, well planned, moment we think is hers) and has given up all dreams of being an illustrator. She very obviously isn't interested in talking about Tim and glosses over her abandoned dreams, trying to look strong and happy. Her reluctance to return to England shows just how vulnerable she really is.

Tim is still at his job. Gareth is now his boss and he has a new awful desk mate. He's not miserable, but not happy either. His attempts to appear casual upon learning that Dawn will be back in town are as delicious as Dawn's own attempts to get out of returning.

Through the two episodes Lee again and again puts Dawn down in small ways, and she seems resigned and unhappy in his company. But when she is back with Tim it's like the two never parted. At the Christmas party they make fun of Gareth like always and laugh together like old times. Tim tries to encourage Dawn back towards illustrating despite Lee's declaration that to make money "you gotta be good."

And then the Christmas party is over. Lee convinces Dawn to leave early because they have a long flight the next day. She and Tim have an awkward goodbye and she's back on her way to the other side of the globe. Of course, we are angry with her for being so stupid as to stick with Lee. Then, when she opens her secret Santa gift in the cab, and it's an art kit very obviously from Tim, and she cries, we forgive her.

(It's such a wonderful juxtaposition to Lee, who earlier comments that Christmas is a gimmick and that he has her just take the money she spent on him out of his wallet. "I'm thinking of wrapping it this year," she remarks.)

Meanwhile Tim interviews back at the party optimistically that while Dawn was a ray of sunshine in his life, life does go on. He believes that things could turn out great for him in the next few years, there is no way of knowing. We are glad to see him so optimistic and cheerful despite the pain, but we know it won't do.

Then it happens.

Tim chats with his old boss and Gareth affably. Life is going on. And there she is at the edge of the screen. Walking unsteadily across the office. Tim doesn't see her as we zoom in on her tearful face. She pushes between him and the other guys, and kisses him.

"Careful, she's got a fiance," Gareth breaks the moment up.

"Not anymore." She pulls away from Tim long enough to say.

Their kiss is awkward, and tender, and wonderful. Tims hand comes up to touch her cheek as though he is only now realizing his dream is coming true. They break apart. She is the one who grips his hand, and leads him from the office. Away from the dark beige carpet, metal desks, and depressing, collating copy machine.

At last.

Like a sap, my heart soars every time I see it. Whenever "Only You" by Yaz, which plays during their climactic kiss, comes on my heart clenches a little.

It's because the rest of the series is so bleak, cold, and unromantic, that this moment shines out. The one moment of happiness magnified by the misery that surrounded it.

For this geek, it's perfect. Forget "Gone With The Wind", "Romeo and Juliet" or any of that overwrought drama. "The Office", two imperfect office workers falling sweetly in love, triumphing over the banal, does it for me.