Sunday, January 30, 2011

Exercise #4 - Gesture

Exercise #4: Gesture
"...but when we have private feelings and thoughts, or when we think that we are hiding our reactions, little gestures often reveal our true selves.  Try to capture some of these gestures on the page," (pg. 18)

Yesterday I went to see "The King's Speech" to work toward completion of my quest to see all Oscar "best picture" nominees prior to the upcoming awards on February 27th (I've seen 8 out of 10 so far - getting closer!)  As I think about Moore's challenge of capturing gestures on the page, I'm wondering about the power of reading to support writing, and how a close reading of screen plays in particular might support this task.  I can't imagine the magnitude of description that exists in this particular screen play, given that the film itself was completely driven by dialogue coupled with gestures.  Colin Firth's facial features and gestures made the audience believe that he truly was King George VI, beginning his reign while struggling with a hopeless stammer, a speech impediment that had cast a dark shadow on his entire life since early childhood.  Compelling and believable gestures = commendable acting = credible film-making.  But gestures exist as words on a page before an actor gives life to them.

This week I'm going to try to commit to some people watching in order to observe and collect the nuances of gesture at work in everyday life.  Those small details that can speak louder than words or dialogue on a page.  The habitual running fingers through hair, nail biting, deep sighing, changes in expression, cadence of movement, and so on that typically goes unnoticed.  Perhaps in a small gesture a character will reveal herself?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Exercise #3 - The Flood of Memory

Exercise #3: The Flood of Memory
"...go to the river of memory.  Find one small detail, and start writing for just 10 minutes, trying to remember one small detail at a time.  See where it takes you today." (pg. 11)

Memory: On Pointe

I remember the car ride and the butterflies gathering in my stomach on the drive from small, rural Arkansas Valley to Denver.  The seemingly sophisticated teenage girls stuffed into my mom's Chrysler mini-van, their walkmans turned up to hear White Snake and Sinead O'Connor, while their shiny Lipsmackered mouths moved silently to the music.  I stared out the window and gave myself a silent pep talk...I had to get those shoes.  For as long as I could remember I had wanted to dance on pointe, to feel the height and grace that only those shoes, those prima ballerina shoes could give me.

After the 3 hour road trip, the girls burst out of the van, chatting and gum popping their way into the store.  This trip was like so many others to everyone else.  The other girls, all one or two years older than me, had their shoes.  While they casually flipped through catalog order books and fingered racks of leotards, skirts, sweaters and leg warmers, I waited patiently, willing the knots in my stomach to loosen and relax.  Stretching gently and raising my heels up to stand on the balls of my feet I glanced sideways in the full-length mirror, imagining what my legs and feet would look like when they were wearing the shoes.  

At long last, the slender, tall saleswoman, looking very much like a weary, retired ballerina with dark and silver-streaked hair gathered in a low bun, called my name.  She tenderly unwrapped a pair of soft, peach satin pointe shoes and held one firmly in her palm as she cocked her head, motioning for me to insert my foot into the opening.  With a nervous gulp, I hastily spread a clump of lamb's wool over my toes and tried gracefully to slide my foot to the top of the shoe.  Pulling the back of the shoe onto my heel, I gingerly held the two perfect satin ribbons at arm's length and caught my breath before wrapping the ribbons around my ankle and lower leg in a criss-cross pattern and tying the ends together into a workable knot.  In a seated position I placed my foot upright and pivoted it to the side, so that I could see what my foot and stringy adolescent leg looked like in the shoe.  With a slight blush, I hastily put on the other shoe, inhaled sharply and stood up, rolling onto the tops of my feet in both shoes while keeping my legs turned out.  The blunt pain sent tears to my eyes, but I knew that if I had to, I could stand like that for the rest of the long as I got to walk out owning my first, perfect pair of pointe shoes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Exercise #2 - Why do you write?

Moore asks writers to explore this question in his second exercise on pg. 6: "Why do you write?"

I write to think.  I write to learn, to process, to ponder and question.  I write to respond to others, to communicate through print instead of spoken words.  I write because writing feels more permanent and purposeful than just talking.  I write to let others know how I feel and to feel others out...I write to remember - grocery lists, calendar items, weekly to do's.  I write for practical and passionate reasons.  I am still learning and exploring why I write...maybe I should have saved this exercise for further down the writing path? 

This is how far I have to go...listen to what Terry Tempest Williams wrote in her essay, "Why I Write:"

"I write to discover.  I write to uncover.  I write to meet my ghosts...I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words...I write as though I am whispering in the ear of the one I love."  

Whew...good, deep stuff.  I'm gonna sleep on those words tonight and hope they 'sink' in to my inner-creative psyche and help me with tomorrow's writing endeavor - exercise #3, which sounds super scary - "The Flood of Memory."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking the Plunge - Pen (er, Keyboard) in Hand

To begin my writing adventure I felt I needed some professional support and expert advice.  I like the idea of writing on a regular basis, but I'm still plagued regularly by writer's block and the "what" - what should I write about?  (I should probably be concerned with the "who" as well - as in, who will read the "what"?  But right now, a little personal blog feels pretty small and safe, so I'm shelving the audience question until I get my sea legs in the writing process).  

Back to the professional support from a real writer.  I recently picked up a copy of Dinty W. Moore's Crafting the Personal Essay - A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction with a Tattered Cover gift card that had been gathering dust in the deep recesses of my over-sized purse.  How, as a self-proclaimed bookworm did I manage to hold onto said gift card so long?  It is with a hearty twinge of guilt that I have to answer -- since I've become addicted and hopelessly attached to my Nook ereader (sorry, TC - still love those indie book stores, ereaders are just so dang convenient).  

Akin to what Julie Powell did with Julia Child's recipes, I'm attempting to do with Moore's writing exercises.  His book is full of information on the craft of essay writing, tips for making writing a part of your everyday life, and over 100 writing prompts and exercises to get would-be essay writers started.  And so, with Moore's help, I'm taking the plunge with:

Exercise #1: "Get it Out of Your System!"
Take a few minutes to scribble down any recollections of what you've learned over the years about the essay form.  This is a good time to vent...What did you want to write then?  What do you want to write now? (pg. 5)

Essays make me think of 5 block paragraphs that circle a narrow and generally uninteresting thesis statement.  Essays make me think of Ralphie and the "theme" he had to craft in the nostalgic "A Christmas Story" - a paper he was sure was going to move his staunch schoolteacher to tears and earn him an A+++, but in reality rendered him a disappointing C+.  Essays make me think of trite prompts, standardized testing, and college applications.  They make me think of math formulas, because so often our schooling experiences put the essay in a box, in ways we wouldn't dare box in other creative genres.  The poor essay - if written with passion and panache it could rival and borrow from it's distant relative, poetry, but instead it is assigned, assessed, and perhaps even admonished for pushing the envelope in form or voice.  It's time to liberate the essay, especially from it's traditional classroom definition.  

What did I want to write then?  What do I want to write now?  Hmm...something compelling and credible, but not not so research-laden that the reader gets bogged down in the minutiae.  Something I'm passionate about that would reach a broad audience with similar interests.  Something that is creative and lyrical in form, but that has substance.  I want to write something like that - now if I can just figure out what that "something" Mr. Moore, I'm stuck already! 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On Resolutions

Mid-January.  The time of boxing up the Christmas lights and taking stock of life in the present - a fresh page, a clean calendar, a new year.  Like millions of other resolution-makers, the time feels right for committing to something - spending less, sweating more, or in my case, blogging.  Time to "go public" with a writing accountability system and an outlet for creative ramblings, book reviews and rough drafts.  Time to stop thinking about writing and actually write.  

The Atlantic (magazine) blogger Andrew Sullivan writes that to blog is "to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm's length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others...pivot you toward relative truth."  And now it's time to take a deep breath...and let the writing adventure begin.  Temporary resolution or evolving reality?  Only time will tell.