02 February 2014

ROW80 2014, Round 1, Week 4

Today's post includes my weekly ROW80 update, a brief appreciation for W. Somerset Maugham, and the result of one of this week's freewrites (just for fun). 

Summary: This week was an improvement over last one, so yay!

Writing - Work on WIPs, 3 blog posts/week, submit - MOSTLY MET. Worked on the pseudonym's WIP1 for about half an hour. Ran into some problems but then hit upon the right questions to help me resolve those problems, so I feel excited about that. Wrote & published three blog posts, including this one. Still haven't done any submitting. Submitting work is one of those things that falls off the to-do list when I'm feeling strapped for time. 

Reading - Read something inspiring - MET. Not only did I read and enjoy Russell Edson and James Tate this week, but I also picked up a copy of W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence off my Grandma's kitchen counter and was hooked. Why had I never read Maugham before?!? Look at this, from the very first paragraph:
I do not speak of that greatness which is achieved by the fortunate politician or the successful soldier; that is a quality which belongs to the place he occupies rather than to the man; and a change of circumstance reduces it to very discreet proportions.... The greatness of Charles Strickland was authentic. It may be that you do not like his art, but at all events you can hardly refuse it the tribute of your interest. He disturbs and arrests.... The artist, painter, poet, or musician, by his decoration, sublime or beautiful, satisfies the aesthetic sense; but that is akin to the sexual instinct, and shares its barbarity: he lays before you also the greater gift of himself. To pursue his secret has something of the fascination of a detective story. It is a riddle which shares with the universe the merit of having no answer. The most insignificant of Strickland's works suggests a personality which is strange, tormented, and complex; and it is this surely which prevents even those who do not like his pictures from being indifferent to them...
Maybe part of the reason I find it inspiring is because the egomaniac in me would love to be described one day as someone whose "most insignificant...work suggests a personality which is strange, tormented, and complex" - though perhaps I could do without the "tormented" part - and as a riddle without an answer.

But it's also a love of his syntax and word choice. Look at the sentence It is a riddle which shares with the universe the merit of having no answer. He could have said "It is a riddle which, like the universe, has no answer" or "It, like the universe, is a riddle without answer" or "It and the universe have this in common: they are riddles that have no answers" or found any other number of ways to say it. But the syntax he used is concise and clear and (to my mind) elegant. What's more, the word merit is important here because it indicates that he places positive value on a riddle without an answer, which in turn suggests to me that he takes pleasure in - rather than being frustrated by - the endless contemplation afforded by pondering a riddle without answer. All that from one little word that might have easily been omitted had he gone with a different sentence structure. How brilliant is that?!? =*D

Anyway. Moving on.

  • Participate in #writeclub on Twitter every Friday - NOT MET. I don't even know what happened this week. At one point on Friday I was like, "Oh look, it's Friday. I should really do writeclub. I will. Right after-- SQUIRREL!" and never came back to it. This week's strategy: actually schedule time on Friday to participate in writeclub.
  • Continue to attend readings - NOT MET. I'm in a new town and was busy with an editing gig all week, so I didn't make this happen. But I did search the Internet for readings & open mics in my new town and came up with a couple leads.
  • Read and comment on at least 3 other ROW80 participants' check-ins each week - MET. Woo hoo!

  • Begin each day with 15 minutes of freewriting (good for my mental health) - MET. Well, six out of seven days, so I'm calling that a win. I recorded four dreams and did two morning freewrites. I have to say, I kinda love this morning freewriting thing. My mind tends to go to some very weird places (see sample freewrite below included just for fun), and I feel amused and interested. But most of all, it just feels awesome to get in touch with my creative side while sipping that first mug of coffee in the morning.
  • Exercise for at least an hour a day - MET. Walked an hour a day six out of seven days and for half an hour on the seventh.

And now, just because I feel like sharing, here is one of the freewrites I did this week as part of my morning writing:
The moaning looked up into the sky and grinned, too eeled to care that the world crashed down around its fangs, one solitary duck at a time landing thud-like on the pavement -crashthudsplatquacking, really - and flopping around gasping like a fish out of water or a duck out of air.
Why do we have to say that a thing is like something that is other than the thing itself? Why must things be defined by their relationships to other things, by their similarities to or differences from other things that are not the thing itself?
Imagine for a moment that you do not know what a duck is, that you did not spend your childhood weekends at the park, by the pond, feeding the ducks stale bread your mother gave you for the purpose, a practice which, you found out as an adult, is actually harmful to the ducks because their stomachs fill with puffed-up bread and they don't eat the normal duck things that make them healthy. Imagine you had never heard of or seen a duck, that this creature on the ground has no relationship to any creature you have experience with. You have no idea what it eats, whether it's wild or domesticated, whether, if given the chance, it will rip your squishy organs out and devour them with relish. All you see is this animated object covered in feathers (though likely you do not know they are called feathers) and you are not assuming that its crash-landing brings it any closer to death than it was before because, for all you know, this is its normal behavior.
You are, after all, an intelligent life form on an alien planet that has no ducks, no birds of any kind in fact, but suddenly this feathered creature - you do recognize it as a creature - lands before you or beside you or behind you as you are busy doing something, maybe washing your hands in a river or preparing a meal over a fire or unraveling the secrets of the universe from your garden, and even if its intestines are spilling from its guts like-- No. No more similes. We are trying to see the thing itself as much as possible without putting it into relationship with other things. But even if its intestines are spilling out you have no idea because you don't know what a duck is supposed to look like or where its intestines are supposed to be. This could be the thing's natural state. 
And so now: What do you feel, presented with this creature, when you do not know it is a duck, you cannot compare it to the ducks from your childhood, and you are not thinking of the creature in relationship to its proximity to death?
I will tell you what I feel: Curious. Curious and cautious.

This is a blog hop! Click here to read other ROW80 participants' check-ins.

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