OK. so if you’re depressed about crime and the decay of society and interpersonal disconnection, Jean-Luc Godard is not the person whose work you should turn to. I feel like I should put on some liquid eyeliner and look into the camera while saying, “Je ne sais pas…” But that’s just my typical way of dealing with my actual feelings by turning them into an artistic abstraction. I guess it’s how I make sense of life — narrative is the only concept of an afterlife I believe in.
The past few days have been quietly eventful. I found the perfect title for a story that I am going to submit to Glimmer Train‘s Family Matters contest. I wanted the title to come from a nursery rhyme and to do with horses, and I found:
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
If turnips were watches, I would wear one by my side.
And if “ifs” and “ands” were pots and pans,
There’d be no work for tinkers’ hands!
So it’s “If Wishes Were Horses,” though I’m also dwelling on “How the Light Gets In” from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem.” (“There is a crack in everything./ That’s how the light gets in.”) I worked from the theme of unwilling self-sacrifice and from Tolstoy’s truth that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. An excerpt about the Leonard family:
When she thought back on this change in alliances, Zerlina realized that something was irrevocably altered in those few weeks. The family was different afterwards; it examined its own disintegration. Zerlina’s partnership with Hannah was uneasy. She had never wanted to take charge of her younger sister, and Hannah was aware of that. But Patrick seemed not to sense this, and he relinquished his former place in Hannah’s life with a quiet sullenness. Often, Zerlina would catch him gazing at her mother, longingly, as if trying to work out how to recapture her attention, how to remind her that she had once been in love with him. This love was something that Zerlina could remember but Hannah could not. It was something that Elaine had lost in degrees after Hannah was born, until she arrived at a point where neither happiness nor unhappiness seemed to matter and preservation of herself and her children was an indifferent task. Her marriage survived only in form, like the shells of dead sand dollars that littered the cold Oregon beaches–brittle, bleached.
It’s weird, I’m liking “How the Light Gets In” better. The story involves a kind of wishing well, too, and the perfectness of the nursery rhyme is perhaps too on-the-nose, as if I wrote the story to fit it, even though I’d never seen it until yesterday. Or maybe I will save that title for another story. Re-reading this story, I am inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s example of eliminating adverbs from his writing. I use them too much, to the detriment of finding the right verb, the right adjective, the original phrase. Still, I like the feeling of development.
And, sadly, one of the quiet events marking the week is the death of one of my writing teachers, James D. Houston. Thinking of him made me remember a particular week when I turned in a story that showed him that I can write. (He had been on the fence about it based on my previous week’s production, I think.) That was, I thought, a moment of development, and I tried to make what I wrote subsequently live up to that story. (It was called “Aria’s Sea Change,” and it’s now a chapter of my novel.) That’s what a good teacher can do — recognize what you’re capable of and make you want to strive to live up to it. You start out wanting impress them and end up becoming better for your work’s sake.