I've fallen behind on my journalling, as I try to meet a daily word count on this novel, and I wonder if a novel is even what I want to be writing. This fiction started out as short stories, and I like the serialized nature of them, separate but building on one another. I don't have an epic plot in mind to make any of it feel like a novel, but I consider it could be a picaresque, which perhaps is not all that different than what I have been doing with the short stories that aren't exactly separate from each other.
There never was a plan really, just an idea to write some sword & sorcery with an unexpected/unconventional character type. I'm not sure I can really consider it sword & sorcery, but it's also not epic fantasy or portal fantasy or urban fantasy (in that genre specific way it is used, despite it being fantasy that takes place in an urban environment). It's not fairy tale or myth or weird fiction. And sword & sorcery is not best known for novels (perhaps a argument for writing one, though).
And so I'm trying to meet a word count with no other longterm goal, but also letting other writing fall away, not getting my usual writing done, so this morning I decided that if word count is all that matters, then it doesn't matter if my "novel" also breaks into my "journal" as I go. A little metafictional cliché to go with my fantasy clichés.
The election this week is throwing a dense layer of feeling and atmosphere across everything, but I am trying to stay level. I've been sitting almost every morning (I missed one day), which begins to crowd my pre-work routine: sitting, walking, breakfast, and then writing 1700 words, all before I start work at 9 is perhaps too much to get in consistently, especially when the writing comes with long pauses.
Up until now, even when I was trying to write everyday (I really fell behind on that after our vacation where I was working on a sixth story in a stream of consciousness mode that quickly stumped me, causing me to just stop working on it for almost 2 months) it was not about an amount but just progress, and sometimes "progress" meant a few sentences and some notes for what would happen next accompanied by some light research. Given the time constraints now, I don't have the time for such slowness, which I think it partly the point, to just let it all come out, a kind of controlled automatic writing (it is supposed be "novel writing" which implies some form of structure (and for most people, plot, characters, settings, etc) that is not always so automatic).
And I probably need to think that way, to let the words come out, and if I throw all of them away later there is no harm but some time used up.
I finished the second of Le Guin's "Annals of the Western Shore" novels the other night, Voices. It turned out, contrary to my previous statements, that there is a connection with the first book. The narrator and main secondary character of the first novel, become important secondary characters in the second novel, which has a different narrator. They are now grown up (and married), and so the narrator switches to another teenage character (a woman this time) and as before we get a coming of age tale, this time set around a city and a struggle with an occupying force. Le Guin, not unexpectedly, constructs her plot to convey the power of words/books/voices and downplay the power of violence, which is not to say there isn't violence in the book, but that the resolution of the problems are not found in the violence exactly. Though also, the threat of violence by an occupied populous does play an important part in the resolution, but the words and books and poems provide a medium for communication that makes sure the final resolution is not just a lot of fighting and death. In thinking about it, there is difficult message within the plot about letting go of historical violence. The occupied people do not expel or overthrow the occupying force, despite all the death and damage they have caused.
Started in on Faulkner's If I Forget Thee, Jerusalam (f.k.a The Wild Palms). I had that novel stuck in my head as a Faulkner I had long wanted to read, and I couldn't remember why, at first thinking it was because it was the one Queneau translated to French, but on looking it up realized that was Mosquitoes (one of his earliest novels), so just now I am happy to see that in looking it up, the Wikipedia article supplies my answer: this one was translated by Borges into Spanish, so I probably read something Borges wrote about it in one of my collections of his work. Unfortunately, I am finding the novel itself a bit of a slog. It alternates, chapter by chapter, between two stories, one of which, "The Old Man," I am finding extremely longwinded and boring. I'm not clear on how much the two interrelate, such that I would be missing something considerable if I just read the more interesting one, "The Wild Palms." Faulkner's writing is so much different than a lot that I have been reading lately, it is denser, longer, filled with more analogies and metaphors, often even obscuring the actual events happening. There is a certain amount of inferences one must make from the text.
And now I'm not sure how I feel about this interruption of the fiction with the non-fiction, like that old commercial about chocolate and peanut butter, two things that I acutally don't like mixed (well I'm not a big fan of peanut butter by itself either).
I just turned and looked at my office window and a fog has settled over the area. The air was clear earlier when I was going to feed Buddy and saw one of the foxes out back of the house (he scratched, stood up, stretched front then back legs, shook himself, and then wondered off into the brush). We're having a warm spell this week, perhaps the cool night air and the warming day air are causing the fog, I don't really know how fog works (or maybe this is just haze, a differentiation I'm not clear on). It was a beautiful day yesterday, at least it was when we took a walk after lunch. The sky was bright and clear, the air was warm (for the season). You can for a moment forget the political turmoil and stress.
Day 6 and I'm already seeing that 1700 words a day of fiction is more than I am likely to be able to accomplish, but if I can keep up a daily word count that is at least progress towards something. Maybe it's National Novella Writing Month for me...
I took too many days to slowly watch Hong Sang-Soo's Right Now, Wrong Then (2015) on the Hoopla service the library subscribes to. I've enjoyed a few of his quiet, rather Rohmer-esque films. This one, like many of his more recent films, stars Kim Min-Hee. The basic story is about a movie director who is visiting a city to talk for the showing of one of his films. He ends up there a day early and in walking around a temple meets a young woman who is a painter. They talk; they visit her studio; they have coffee and sushi and soju; they go to a cafe owned by a friend of hers and socialize; they take a late night walk. The next day he has his lecture. Without any other elements this could be really boring or it could be interesting depending on how it was done. Sang-Soo takes an interesting tactic with it. The plot I describe above ends at almost exactly the halfway point of the film. Then the title is shown again, then the story starts over. The second time through some of the more basic background info is elided (we don't have to re-see him talking to his assistant at the beginning, for instance) but also the interaction between the two protagonists changes.
In the first version they are more closed off, and the director is, if not exactly lying, leaving things unsaid, putting a polite veneer over everything. For instance, when they are in her studio, his comments about her paintings are very positive and kind in the first version, but in the second version he seems to say more clearly what he actually thinks: still positive, but more nuanced, more critical. At first this makes it seem like they are getting along worse than in the first version, but as the second version continues the opposite becomes the case as they both are more open and honest in their conversations. In the first version, she only learns he is married when one of her friends at the cafe (who is a fan of the director) brings it up. This causes her to be distanced and basically ends their interactions on a sour note. In the second version he tells her pretty early on, as he expresses his feelings for her and his situation (wife, two kids, etc.) which allows them this bittersweet almost romance for the rest of the second version.
On a meta-level, I already know that Sang-Soo and Min-Hee actually did have a relationship (at this time and for a few years it seems), despite him being married. The film seems autobiographical in feeling, if not fact, since the two in this movie do not actually go onto any real relationship, they just express feelings and a sense of the impossibility of it all.
As I was watching the movie, something occurred to me about film and writing. I often find it hard to write dialogue and conversations as I'm working on my fiction, and I realized that one big aspect of that for me, is silence. In film, especially quieter ones with a more realistic style of dialogue, silence and pauses is so important to the interactions. In writing, those pauses in speech and silences between characters talking are so much harder to convey. You tend to have to fill them with words, descriptions about expression or movement or just explaining the silence, which for me really dilutes the effect.
I'm wondering if I could better replicate such with acutally silence of words, which is to say blank space on the page. Surely someone has done such before, possibly I have even read books like that before and am not recalling them now. The economics of doing such in print is no doubt not great for longer works, as it would eat up pages. I bet a lot of readers would find it really annoying too (some people seem to hate blank space in books, especially if they consider it too gimmicky), but I think it's something worth exploring for me.
The unseasonable weather yesterday was such that we could have another outdoor happy hour and dinner at
███ ███ ███████. Not sure we'll have any more of those as the temperature lowers, but we thought that before. I'll miss that social contact, distanced as it is. Not sure we have an easy alternate option for cool weather. Especially now that virus cases seem to be rising pretty drastically again in the county, yesterday was the second highest positive counts since this whole thing started.
I was outside walking up our driveway, and, from the big yard across the street I saw a large fast moving animal headed my way, as it neared the street I could see it was a deer, a male with young antlers, only two single horns jutting up from its head. It must have noticed me, as it crossed the street and turned left, into my neighbors front yard then ran down the street through all the front yards. Had I not been there it probably could have run into my backyard and to the park (we have a back fence, but I leave the gate open for fox and deer egress).
Watched Asako I & II a 2018 film from Ryûsuke Hamaguchi that I must have heard something positive about back when it was in some film festival. It was a not entirely satisfying film, I think I ended feeling pretty neutral about, not disappointed at the time spent, but not eager to see it again or even think about it further. A young woman dates this guy who then disappears. Years later she meets another man who looks exactly like the first guy (same actor, different haircut), and reluctantly ends up dating him. Later, after she has become engaged to the second guy, the first guy shows up and impetuously she runs away with him, but then almost immediately realizes that was the wrong choice. She goes back to the fiance. That Asako is the protagonist, not the doubled guy, makes the title a bit mysterious. I think we have to take as the two selves of Asako, the present self and the past self. She has held onto this vision of this past relationship that was young, simple, and happy and ended without any closure. And then she is enmeshed in this new relationship, but is unable to let the old one disappear into memory (which is literalized by the way the two guys look the same). She has to come to realize that she must live in the present, not the past, that she has to let go of this idealized relationship that belongs to her past self. That's an interesting premise (assuming I am reading it accurately), but I don't think the movie completely succeeds at conveying it with enough weight.
I am thinking I will lower the bar for myself and call this month's writing project Novella Writing instead of Novel Writing. With a word count of 30k instead of 50k that lowers my daily count to 1000 words which feels much doable to me and probably more accurately envisions the scope of the fiction I would produce.
Watched Bette Gordon's Variety (1983) which Criterion descibes as a "feminist noir". It was co-written by Kathy Acker (who I've been meaning to read again, as I only briefly tried one of her novels many many years ago). The atmosphere and lighting are often noirish as is the settings, the rundown NYC of the early 80s, where the protagonist takes a job as a ticket seller at a Times Square adult movie theater. This suited older guy talks to her a few times, and takes her out to dinner, then to a Yankees game where he leaves early on some mysterious business. She follows him to some shady looking meetings, then later follows him to Asbury Park for more shady meetings. Her boyfriend, who seems to be a reporter, has been talking to her about some kind of mob/union situation at the docks/fish market, which seems to be what sets her into this idea of this man as a criminal, and then it seems to actually be the case. He's seen at the fish market by the camera, as she walks around it, but I don't think she ever sees him. In the process she gets interested in the films at the theatre she works and in a bookstore across the street. In a couple scenes with her boyfriend, she suddenly (seemingly without any provocation or lead in) starts narrating an erotic tale, which really disturbs the boyfriend. At some point, she seems to start working in some kind of adult entertainment (it's not totally clear, it's not shown). At the end she calls the older guy, tells him she followed him and her completely vague sense of him doing something illegal, and then tells him to meet her on a street corner. The street corner (or at least a street corner) is shown at night, long take. End of movie.
It's an unusual film, very early 80's NYC: makes me think of Jarmusch's early movies or various No Wave films); Nan Goldin (the photographer) is the protagonists friend; John Lurie did the soundtrack. Seems to all be filmed on location. The protagonist is really closed off. We see some of what she does, and what she says to others, though she doesn't talk a lot or really confide in anyone, and as the plot goes on she is more and more isolated. So we never really know what she's thinking, what motivates her, why she feels the need to follow this guy around and then expose that she was.
There is a lingering sense of dread throughout the movie, I expected at any moment something bad would happen to the protagonist, but it never does. In the end she exposes herself (perhaps to danger, we are left hanging). It reminds me a lot of the various metaphysical detective stories I've read (like Auster's City of Glass or Robbe-Grillet's Erasers) where the mysterious is more of a framework for the detective's self exploration. That seems to be what the writers are going for as the woman becomes drawn into the pornography around her (at one point she even projects herself onto the screen, in a scene with the man she keeps following). I don't know. Intriguing elements, but not super successful throughout.
I'm not quite finished Le Guin's Powers and really enjoying it. The book is basically a sequence of the protagonist narrator learning about different societies in his world. He is a slave for a wealthy family who is educated to be a teacher to the children. We see him learning from his childhood, the classroom, then the society of the male slaves when he is old enough to move into their barracks. When war comes, he is sent to do hard labor where he deals with a different situation, then he ends up working with a bunch of other educated slaves. He runs away and lives in the woods with two different bandit/freed slave groups. He leaves them and goes into the marsh and lives with the people he was stolen from a child, his original family who have a very different society. He appears to be headed next to a different city. Each group and place is for him learning about different power structures and relations. He sees how the master/slave dynamic gets replicated in different forms, at different levels, between different types of people, even when in some cases the people are explicitly saying they are against slavery (and are mostle escaped slaves).
Finished Le Guin's Powers yesterday. Was thinking about how the three novels in the series (hard to call it a trilogy exactly) are all about the protagonists growing up and leaving their homes, but in the first and third ones, they leave without really contributing to any solutions to the issues where they live. But in the second one Voices, the protagonist actively engages in if not solving the problem of her home at least progressing on a solution. I don't think this is necessarily bad, you can't always fix where you come from, but it is one (of the many) things that separate these books (and probably Le Guin's fantasy in general) from more conventional fantasy novels. Gav, in Powers, grows up a slave (though not born one) and learns to think outside the system he is enmeshed in and see how horrific it is. He escapes slavery, but, unlike a what a more traditional epic fantasy hero would do, he doesn't later go back and free the slaves or wage war on city state he grew up. He gets no revenge on family that enslaved him or the men that killed his sister (it is assumed one of them does die, but it's not through Gav's actions exactly). He meets a man at one point who claims to be planning an uprising to get all the slaves to take over, but that man is violent and abusive (to the woman around him especially) and eventually ends up killed by the slave holding states. He's the violent hypermasculine fantasy hero, and he comes to no good. Gav, instead, escapes, travels, learns, helps some people (when he can), and ends up becoming a student, possibly so he can write a history.
Watched Hirokazu Koreeda's Shoplifters yesterday. This is one I heard good things about and wanted to see in the local theatre a couple years back, but then missed going. I enjoyed it, though it ended up a bit darker than I expected (and it felt like some of the ending was bleaker than it needed to be for some of the characters). One of the more interesting things about it, was how it was only at the end that the situation of the protagonists was actually made clear. The whole movie is about this group of people living together in a very crowded little house, and it is not clear how they are all related. Over the course of it you pick up some of it, but in other cases it is only at the end that you get clearer information about it all. But, for the most part of the movie, they are a created family, if not a family related by marriage/birth. And we see how that family can work togther and be happy, but then in the end we see how society works against that idea, how people can't understand a created family so they have to make up their own negative interpretations about the relationships involved.
I started reading Balzac's Lost Illusions the other night. It's a very long book, so I expect I will be reading it for quite awhile. It was serialized in three parts, so perhaps I will take a break between those. It is so far very digressive. The narrator says he has to tell the story of how Lucien (the, or one of the, protagonist) meets a noblewoman, so he tells the story of the noblewoman's family, then her and how she became a patroness of the arts, and then he starts talking about some Baron who comes to meet the noblewoman, and... well I guess eventually he will get back around to Lucien. We will see how it goes.
I started rewatching David Milch's John From Cincinnati this morning, at least my third time. It is one of the most underrated tv series I can think of, so of course it was cancelled too soon (though since it was HBO at least it got a full season). It's a pretty mysterious show, in that it is not totally realist, there is a fantasical/mystical element that is not ever explained. Actually occurs to me to see if there is anything out there of Milch talking more about the show. I mostly see him talking about Deadwood, rarely about anything else.
Over the past week we watched The Queen's Gambit on Netflix, a miniseries about a woman who becomes a world chess champion in the 60s. It was a stylish, entertaining show, though it always felt a little lacking in conflict. On her way to top, we only see her lose like 3 times. She has a drinking problem, but other than perhaps causing one of those loses it doesn't seem to do too much to effect her life, and by the end she seemingly has it under control with barely any effort. When she needs money to get to Russia, an old friend shows up at her door, conveniently moneyed enough to help her out. All the men she leaves behind, just happen to forgive her and get together in the same location, so they can help her just when she needs it.
Many of the episodes featured flashbacks to her childhood with her mom. The first one pretty clearly establishing that her mom was smart but perhaps not totally healthy, mentally, and that her father was absent. And you can infer that the mom purposefully drove her car into a truck to kill herself. As the flashbacks continue in subsequent episodes they basically just make all those points a bit more explicit, in case we didn't catch on the first time, but don't really add any depth to the story.
She also seems to meet no sexism in her climb to world chess championship, which seems unbelievable for a male dominated milieu in the 50s and 60s. I think we only see her play 1 female player (in her first competitive match) and then see one other female player at the end. But she's not playing the latter, who is the "female champion" in Russia, which implies the genders competed separately. Yet, the only kind of scorn we see for the protagonist seems more clearly directed at her early on because of her youth and naivety. For a plot so lacking in conflict, it feels like one obvious place that it was missing. The whole thing is fiction (not a biopic) so I guess it ends up a being a bit more fantasy than historical fiction.
I picked up Discovering the True Self: Kodo Sawaki's Art of Zen Meditation edited, etc. by Arthur Braverman because I've read about Sawaki and some other translations of his words. He is in the zen lineage (as they say) of some other zen author's I've read. Sadly, I found this book not very enlightening (ha!). The words from Sawaki did not feel any new or different than what I've already heard about/from him, and in particular I found Braverman's introduction and editorial commentary rather poorly written. The introduction/biography part in particular felt disordered and repetitive. Actually, as a whole the book is repetitive, felt like it was padded out to make it a full book. This sense of lack of novelty and repetition might also come from me having read The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo by Kosho Uchiyama, which surely covered a lot of the same ground and was written by one of Sawaki's students.
180 degrees from that, I stared playing the new Assassin's Creed: Valhalla the other day. So far, nothing specially new or exciting for the series beyond the setting (9th century Norway, I think, though I believe it moves to England as the game progresses). It may just be because I'm getting used to the UI/controls but I do feel like I'm always at a bit of loss to my surroundings in the game, almost like the camera viewpoint is closed in too much. I'm still in the very early lead you by the nose part that this series always has, but at least, so far, there have not been any annoying intrusions by the present day storyline they always have to work into these games. I am again a bit annoyed at the producers that again, while they offer to let you play a male or female protagonist, all the materials seem to focused on the male one, tacitly making that the "default/standard." Which also makes me think that the storyline probably pays no attention to which one you pick.
An excellent review of a Turner show up at the Tate (though maybe behind a paywall?).
Rewatching David Milch's John From Cincinnati, which is one of the great tv shows that was cancelled too soon. This is at least my third time through it. I can totally see why it ended up cancelled, it is completely sui generis for a tv series. The premise is built around a family of surfers, but the surfing aspect is not enough that one would be tempted to watch it solely for that. It finds no easy genres: it's not a lawyer, cop, or doctor show, though there is one of each in the cast; it's not a crime show, though there is a drug dealer; it's not a comedy, though it is at times funny; and it's not a fantasy, though there are mystical, unexplained elements that go beyond the bounds of conventional realism. Tonally it is a bit all over the place in a weird goofy serious way, that can quickly veer from one to the other or somehow all at once. I think it's great, though I don't know anyone else who does.
And now I see I already wrote something like the above a few days ago. I probably repeat myself endlessly here without even realizing it. I know I do that when talking too: I'll tell the same story multiple times, sometimes I find myself just saying the same thing multiple times in hopes someone will reply to it in some way.
The books are piling up around me again, and I ordered more yesterday, a few published journals (Chateaubriand, the Goncourt Brothers, Josep Pla). Feeling the need to sweep away a lot of the ones that are here, always realizing the unlikelihood I will reread many of them, not to mention the ones that just disappointed, or didn't live up to some expectation I had of them.
I'm still working on my NaNovellaWriMo, though even with the reduced word count I am almost two days behind, and I'm not sure what I have written is not a bit more padded out with more words than I would normally use, the hazards of doing any writing by word count.
Review of a new translation of Beowulf that sounds really interesting.
Finished Susanna Clarke's new novel Piranesi yesterday. I was entertained by it, but it felt thin as a whole. It starts out almost like some kind of Borgesian "Library of Babel" type fantasy, but it quickly becomes clear it is some kind of portal fantasy, one that starts on the other side of the portal. From there is is a bit mystery (what is going?), a bit psychological drama, a bit thriller, but also very little fantasy. We never really learn much more about the fantasy world (a vast series of halls filled with statues of all sorts) than is obvious from the physical/visual descriptions of it. We get to hear the theories of the man who discovered it, but there is never a real confirmation of his theories. The whole thing is also written as journal entries, but in that style where you just have to accept that the person writing the journal somehow remembers everything in excessive detail.
The reviews seem to be overwhelmingly positive. One wonders how much that is because of it being Clarke's first novel in many many years and that the whole "narrator stuck in some place he calls a 'House'" happens to fit nicely into a reviewer's ability to spin it in relation to the pandemic and staying home more.
Eliza Hittman's Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which I watched last night, was a much more successful movie than her It Felt Like Love (which I watched last month). To say I "enjoyed" it is probably an overstatement as it is a really downbeat movie. The basic plot is about a 17 year old girl in Pennsylvania who finds out she is pregnant and travels with her friend/cousin to New York City to get an abortion because in PA she'd have to get a parent's consent. Not a plot that screams light hearted or fun, but also Hittman does not play it for excessive drama. It's sad and moving without feeling like it's relentlessly grim. As a whole it felt very real, almost documentary. There are no surprising turns of events; there are no plot twists. What makes it such a slow horror to watch is the reality of the situation the girl has been put in by our misogynistic Christian society, from the way her dad and the boy (who we must assume is the father, though at no point is it made explicit in any way) use the word "slut", to the way the woman at the PA clinic the girl goes to has her watch an anti-abortion video and tells her how she'll feel completely different when she's actually holding the baby, to the protesters outside the clinic in NYC; and the oblivious young man who basically exchanges money for a date and some time making out with the girl's friend. All of the little violences are so blasé and normal and it makes it all the more horrible than if there were scenes of explicit physical/sexual violence (there are none).
Like her previous film, though to a lesser degree, the film is shot with lots of close ups, particular the faces of the two girls. Everything is closed in, you rarely see full bodies or full views of the background. NYC is almost all indoors, stations and clinics and dingy mall-like restaurants and such. The depth of field is quite narrow throughout, focused faces and blurred backgrounds, it makes it all very internal. The color is also overwhelmingly yellow which adds a jaundiced sickness to the whole thing. Really powerful movie, definitely not an easy one to recommend though.
I've been doing my shifts at our food co-op. It's member owned but not member operated (as some apparently are), so the member shifts are all kind of supplemental jobs, which I think have been scaled back a lot since the pandemic hit. But I've done some hours in the "front of house" mostly bagging groceries, but also gathering (and now disinfecting parts of) baskets and carts. It's a strange change of pace for me on multiple levels. Just being out somewhere that isn't my house or outdoors is weird as I've been pretty good about that, but also just interacting with people I don't know. It certainly can reiterate to me how glad I am I don't have to work with the public everyday. I can appreciate the human contact for awhile or with people who are nice and inobstrusive, but then there's always the people who are just super strange and I'm not great at dealing with them (even the little bit I have to). Especially the talky people who say things to which there is no response that is polite (you can't just say "I have no idea what you are talking about so please stop talking to me."). Good thing I am in my house all day working at this computer and only dealing with a very limited number of people!
In between chapters (very long chapters) of Lost Illusions I'm reading other things. Read a few parts of the Essential Acker. The editors have organized it chronologically, so it starts with some only more recently published early works. They all have a element of traditional genre to them, but also a few of them are really pornographic in parts, but in a style that one might call experimental or at least expressionistic: run-on sentences, disordering of logic, fantasy, a literalizing of metaphors, stream of consciousness. You also start to see some of the appropriation she is known for work its way into the works. I'm not going to read this one straight through, but will read sections of it inbetween other works.
Read two comics that... bored me. C.F.'s William Softkey & the Purple Spider is just baffling to me. In many ways it feels childlike, the logic of the story and its elements, but it also just seemed boring and pointless. There was just nothing for me to latch onto. Ripples by Hagiwara Rei is a translation of a small press or self-published manga. It has a loose, watery grey style that is quite non-traditional for the manga one sees in English. The story has this mythological underworld/afterlife thing going on but it all feels very generic, non-specific, too vague (as is the imagery). While the C.F. book is an artist who seems to have reached some solidity with his work (going to a place I am just not interested in), the Rei seems more like an artist moving towards something that could be interesting, but isn't quite there yet.