The Destiny Is In The Details

Not to bore you with details, but a large thematic component of my novel in progress is based on family lore.

As part of my research I’ve signed up for one of those analyze your DNA/create your family tree websites.

Quick side note: My wife is a fan of the various TV shows—Who Do You Think You Are, Finding Your Roots—that traverse this same territory with well known actors, politicians, journalists, academics. I’ve watched several episodes, and while I get the intrigue, the discoveries hadn’t up to the past couple weeks scored an emotional hit.

Fast forward to now and my own revelations about the various family and DNA components that brought me here. I’m struck by the many, many stories that are knitted in my chromosomal past.

I’ve had to confess to my wife that I better understand the appeal of her favorites shows.

Another quick side note: Many of my ancestors were scrappers and farmers who fought for whatever necessities and comforts they could. I was part of the first generation to go to college, and I didn’t realize what a monumental feat that was based on my history. I took it for granted.

Looking over that familial history, it’s very difficult to shake the evidence - social class was destiny. Opportunities were scant. Education was always the one societal mechanism for potentially pushing that destiny aside. Many in my background didn’t or couldn’t use that mechanism.

Which leads me to my reaction about the college admissions scandal revealed this week. This is a class issue. It’s disgusting, it’s cynical and it’s ultimately not surprising. There are many others who have worked harder and suffered more for the their college educations than I have, so I won’t go there, but the audacity of entitlement that this scandal (which I’m sure has just barely begun to reveal itself) has exposed underscores what we all know and live:

There are those with means—those who have always had means—and there are the many who have to pick their way through corrupt systems and do their best to survive with whatever tools they have available to them.

Here’s to the scrappers.

A Ten Year Sleep - The Parenthood Blur

I don’t want to blame it all on my two children, but the past ten years have flowed unlike any other set of years that I can recall.

The clues are there every day: when I have time to listen to music, to watch a movie, to select a new novel to read—and of course any time I exercise or look in the mirror—that a number of significant years have passed in a blur and a rush and my context for nearly everything is 10 years out of synch.

Some days it’s like waking from a distorted version of suspended animation. The Parenthood Blur.

I’m surprised by my lack of emotional response to this realization. I hope this means that I have better learned to accept myself and the world around me. That I’ve adapted to the role of parent.

That all my passions and interests are combining into some massive and wondrous integration.

Hope is not a strategy, I’ve learned, but sometimes our lives align in the best ways despite our efforts to understand how we got here and when.

Negotiating Memory

Central to what we must confront as fiction writers is how to navigate the narrative past.

It’s both a logistical consideration as well as an aesthetic one: When we are referencing an event that happened before the ‘now’ of the story, what authorial mechanisms do we use - flashbacks, section or chapter breaks, font changes?

The conventions are well worn, and I’m not certain that there’s a good answer that doesn’t draw attention to itself, which could then result in potentially pulling the reader out of the story. (I’m reminded of Faulkner’s wish that he could have published The Sound and the Fury with different font colors to denote each character’s inner thoughts. We are all better for the fact that Faulkner didn’t get his way.)

This past week, I watched the third season of HBO’s True Detective with much envy - the creative team was able to evoke specific periods of time with consistent use of clothing, hair styles, even the color palette. The actors of course did much of the heavy lifting - their body language, speech, their non-verbals all transmitted which time-frame we viewers were in. (And if you haven’t seen True Detective’s season 3, do yourself the favor of watching it right now.)

Anyway, I’m currently struggling with an effective and creative way to evoke 3 distinct timelines in my WIP, and I find myself using well-known techniques—section and chapter breaks—and at least right now I’m bored with those options. We’ll see where I land after the next round of revisions.

Companero

I often refer to the ‘aesthetic’ (such that it is and why it must always be accompanied by quotes and qualifiers) of my fiction as equal parts art and spirit.

We can—and often do—toss around the notion that imbibing certain works of music or books or films is akin to having a religious experience. Those experiences often lead those of us so inclined to seek out an artistic life; we want to create something that evokes the same monumental response in another person.

I’m guilty of this desire, although the sad fact of aging is that these profound artistic experiences are fewer and farther. And creating works that evoke anything close to a religious experience in another human is, well, incredibly difficult.

Regardless, and speaking of desire, actor Bruno Ganz passed away yesterday. He was the protagonist angel in Wings of Desire - one of those few films that had that profound impact on my artistic sensibilities, on my soul. I couldn’t imagine another actor whose very face could evoke the wonders of a fallen angel experiencing coffee and cigarettes for the first time.

Wings of Desire is an amazing film. Bruno Ganz was an amazing actor. Losing one feels like losing the other.

Farewell, Companero.

And After Everything Ends with A Whimper?

At some removed juncture, years from now when American society has the space, the time and the clarity to review the Trump Administration’s impact on the health and well-being of American democracy, some think-tank should commission a study on the impact of Trumpism on the nation’s creative output.

Did the Trump era spurn or spark increased creative output?

I would have once thought that an antagonism to the current regime—which is what Trump and his barely functioning ilk pretend to be even though they are laughably incompetent at almost* everything—might fire the creativity of myself and the artists around me, resulting in some kind of Renaissance of artistic awesomeness.

Perhaps this is occurring outside of my ability to recognize it. Speaking for myself, I’ve struggled to maintain my word counts and my writing goals for the past several years. I recognize that’s not all due to a reaction to the Trump Administration bringing out—or perhaps just exposing—the very worst in America. But watching our nation fold hasn’t helped my writing.

Art just doesn’t seem to matter like it once did.

(*With guidance from an enabling GOP congress, Trump’s attack on the rule of law and their placement of right-leaning federal judges has been expert.)