Fear, Matt Bell, and Frog mind

I’ve had a good week. One acceptance, one rejection, and finished–for all intents and purposes–my on-line story. Time to move on…

My mind wanders. Jumps around like Mark Twain’s frog, but today is about settling in. I need to assess and reassess and figure out how to get myself back to work.

BUT it’s not as easy as it sounds. I’ve challenged myself with “A Story A Day” challenge, 500 words, that a couple of my buds are doing in their writing group. And the first couple attempts were great. I even finished a story I sent to a contest. Maybe not my best effort in terms of overall theme, but, at least, I was pleased with the words themselves. I was feeling like I could lay them down in good order, specifically, vividly.

BUT this made me start to feel the need to be “serious.”

Wait. I mean: SERIOUS with all the letters dripping sweat and tears, but I haven’t been able to keep my butt in the chair since. Expectation of writing “seriously” always makes vacuuming the kitchen floor seem like Disneyland, my brain turning into Twain’s frog.

Part of this came about because Matt Bell and Dzanc Books have launched a new mag and of course I’m thinking, ooooo, new opportunity. The Collagist. Appealing to the writer–and artist–in me. I want to write something good for that.

BUT this made me hunker over Matt Bell’s How the Broken Lead the Blind collection.

I reread “Ten Scenes from a Movie Called Mercy” and TOTALLY FREAKED OUT. How the hell did he do that? And actually, what the hell did he do? I liked it. It felt effortlessly dense and beautiful and I had no idea what exactly it was.

So I sat down with a pen and began to deconstruct. Took the 10 scenes and split them into acts according to what I know about structure. And I see there’s a definite fully-conceived structure here, but it doesn’t quite fitttttttt the expected. Good, yes. Good for the writer in him and for the reader in me, but now I (the writer) have to think and consider and ponder.

Scene 1 is the beginning of a “movie, yes. Specific, but indefinite. The “writer/narrator” thinking about it. Three possible scenarios, long hallway, courtyard, the doorway of a country home, and two characters, a man and “you.” A great line “Two objects in motion moving down the length of a line cannot remain separated forever.” Fate, destiny, SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN.”

Scene 2, specific AND definite. Play of light and dark, the man again and a child ending in a scream. SOMETHING IS HAPPENING.

Scene 3, not specific to the “movie,” but specific to the story, silence now, no scream, unbalance, the meaning…

Well, let’s just say it is powerful stuff, like that, something to be read the first time through for visceral impact, like the big ka-pow, something your body knows, but your mind can’t yet sort it all out until you read it again. Definite rewards for repeat reads.

The bottom line for me, really though, is paralysis, because as a writer, I sure as hell don’t have that kind of Nabokovian/Borgesian mind. But I’d like to!!! And there, right THERE, is the reality I’m trying to slip back into today. I CAN’T do what Matt Bell can do.

I have to be who I am. Not trying to be who I read because what I choose to read and appreciate is all over the intellectual spectrum. I just can’t write at all those levels.

I need to take one of those long deep down-into-the-belly breaths and let it out slowly. Stop taking all this so damn seriously. Do what I can do. I’ll get better the more I read and the more I write, and though it doesn’t hurt to take apart someone else’s work (I’ve done this with several pieces over the years–Julie Orringer’s “Pilgrims,” Bejamin Percy’s “Refresh, Refresh”), it’s GOOD to take apart someone else’s work, I can’t be that someone. I can only be me.

So now I’m going to sit down with my egg timer, no prompt, with a blank screen, fingers tapping, and see what happens. Then see if I’ve got anything in there that will come out if I tell it not to be afraid.

That’s all any of us can do. Let the frog mind go and have fun.

3 thoughts on “Fear, Matt Bell, and Frog mind

  1. Helen Ginger

    De-structuring the work of others is something a lot of writers have done, myself included. It helps to see the structure, to pull back, just a bit, the curtain and glimpse the magic. Once you do that, you don't copy. You learn and adapt that to your own writing.

  2. sylvia

    Expectation of writing “seriously” always makes vacuuming the kitchen floor seem like Disneyland, my brain turning into Twain's frog.

    Oh yeah, I know this one!

    I enjoy deconstructions of other people's work as long as I don't think of it in the context of my own words. Whether it's new or already written, as soon as I start thinking about breaking my own work down, my heart starts to pound and I find myself with an urgent need to clean the dust from behind the window rails in the guest bedroom.

    I go on the basis that the deconstruction of other people's work is an important part of learning but that it works under the surface and I need not to try to apply it to my own stuff.

    I could just be in denial, though. 🙂

  3. Gay Degani

    Thanks, Sylvia and Ginger, for such great comments. I don't think I'll ever reach a point where I'll not want to see how others do what they do….


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