Depravation, God and Grammar: Thoughts on Hatemail and Writing

It’s a funny day. The fog gathered around my house this morning, turning everything gray and soft. Now the sun has broken through, but inside my head it still feels gray and soft. I’m in a different library, in the teen room, surrounded by the books that formed me. When I was a child, my father mostly read Scientific American and The New Yorker, and my mother read books about healthy diets and finances and thing. I didn’t know there were adult novels when I was little–though I was delighted to learn that there were.

What are the stories burning inside you? What are the books you desperately want to read that do not exist?

I put an ad on Craigslist for a babysitter and received, along with a passel of nice replies, the following:

“Who gave you the right to have kids? Under Gods law only a man and a women can have kids/raise kids, poor kids what example r u setting foe their future ? In school for instance, ohh yes I have 2 moms, right? They are going to ask, where is your father. Find God get them a real father, meaning! Get a man stop this sin, God made the woman for the man to rule this earth not the sick and depravation you are causing. Find God, you still have time to repent”

My own righteousness lies all in the practice of grammar, I suppose. Perhaps school is to grammar as church is to god. There are lots of people who go to school and learn nothing about grammar. There are lots of people who go to school everyday, but who do not care about grammar one little bit. On the other hand, there are people who forget that all human languages have grammar; school is not required for grammar to flourish. We humans develop systems for understanding each other whenever we gather together.

This is what I have to say to the man who is concerned about the depravation I am causing.

A long time ago, before I knew her, I took a class with Eileen Myles, and she had us watch an old movie with the sound turned off and to write as we watched. We were narrating the movie, essentially. Similarly, I could list off for you the titles of some of the books around me, and you could pick one and write your own book from it, or a short story at least. Angie listens to music when she writes–all kinds of music. I listen to interviews with writers while I clean the kitchen. My point, however, out of the soft gray fog of my brain (oh and I was leafing through Faulkner just now, which didn’t help), is that sometimes having two tracks running–the one you are imbibing and the one you are creating–can move you in different directions than just the silence of your own mind.

How does it feel to be hated?

Unfriendly, to be sure.

I was leafing through Light in August to see if I could map Aristotle’s incline across it. For example: There are 507 pages in the Vintage paperback edition I am holding, the one with the gold and burnt umber cover with a picture of a road on it. This one also has a sticker with a list of dates stamped and penned in (library book) and a Summer 2005 Selection sticker from Oprah’s Book Club (Faulkner being less able to object that the arrogant living writer who’d rejected her attentions). In any case, the midpoint of a 507 page novel should fall somewhere around page 254. Chapter 12 begins on 256 with the line, “In this way the second phase began.”

There is a mathematics to literature as there is to music.

I just finished reading A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon, who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I wrote in my newsletter tip about his excellent use of sensate detail. The whole books was visual; in fact, I would go so far as to say that it was nearly a film. Haddon has a background in writing film, so that may explain it. It was a funny and fast read–much like watching a romantic comedy with, say, Hugh Grant. (He could play the gay son, I think, or the sister’s fiance if he wanted to step out of type.) Omniscient narration with short chapters that spun among the main characters.

Haddon did a great job of pushing the story as far as it could go without becoming science-fiction or horror or something. Within its genre, I mean, he really let things happen and get bad and then worse and then . . . because it is a romantic comedy . . . better at long last.

Forgive this rambling little blog entry this morning. It is time to go retrieve the boys from the park and the babysitter and go have lunch. I leave you with five ideas for planning your novel, in case you, too, are going to start writing one in the next three or four days:

1) Write out everything you know about the book.

2) Write out everything you do not know about the book.

3) Make a list of twenty concrete images, scenes, people, moments that you want to include.

4) If you are stuck on a point, write out five different ways to solve it.

5) Ask yourself what you believe: what truths do you hold to be self-evident? Make a story up about that. Be sure you put that contrary character in there–the one who things that your best, most human self is a deprivation before god.

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1 Comment

  1. Eileen still does that in her classes, put on a silent movie and have the students write. It’s amazing to watch what comes out of that process.


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