Friday, July 2, 2010

Random Thoughts, July 2, 2010

I'm all over the place today, so today's post is going to be a grab bag.

1) Today's Ghana vs. Uruguay game was heartbreaking.  For those who didn't watch, Ghana and Uruguay were tied 1-1 going into the last minute of stoppage time during the second and final overtime period.  Ghana took a free kick on the right side of the start of the offensive third, and played it into the box.  The ball eluded the goalie, was cleared off the goal line by a Uruguayan player, and fell onto the head of a Ghanian player, who then headed it on net.  The two Uruguayan players on the goal line could not clear it with their heads, feet, or torsos, so they decided to play volleyball; Diego Suarez threw the ball away with his hands.

He got a red card, of course, but Ghana did not receive a goal.  Instead, they received a penalty shot that Gyan promptly missed.  The game went to penalties and Uruguay won, 4-2.

As I said: heartbreaking.  Still, it was great to see the Black Stars show such heart, grit, and determination even in defeat.  Here's hoping that they'll learn from this experience and come back even stronger in four years.

2) It's always surprising to learn the details of people's lives.  Someone I never pegged as an athlete turns out to have played soccer quite a bit when she was younger.  This makes sense now that I know, but I never would have guessed before.  Another friend is taking up piano lessons as an adult.  Since he's an artist with good taste in music, I always assumed he played at least one instrument.  Silly me.

3) Last thought of the day, due to emotional exhaustion from today's games: I need to restring my guitar.  Only one string is broken (the high E) but now nothing sounds right.

Oh, details.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pictures. Books.

My favorite coffee shop in Israel (sorry Ba'cafe) is The Coffee Mill in Jerusalem.  It has decent food, a great selection of coffee, and a relaxed atmosphere.  The right-hand wall is filled with bins of different coffee beans, imbuing the small building with a warm, earthy scent.  The rest of the walls are covered with old New Yorker covers spanning at least a couple decades.

I spent many days there whiling away the hours with friends, glancing at the wonderful illustrations constantly.  Each captures the mood of a moment in history, from Bill Clinton's mug during the Lewinsky scandal to the iconic New Yorker monocled man.

A recent cover summed up the unfathomable nature of the disaster in the Gulf.  The reference to Escher is brilliant; like his work, the oil spilling into the ocean tricks our minds.  We cannot comprehend it rationally.  Despite my best efforts, I cannot imagine millions of gallons of oil worming their way through deep waters and onto shores hundreds of miles away.  I cannot fully understand the true extent of the damage wrought on the ecosystem.  All I do when I see pictures of birds covered in brown goo is say, "Wow, that sucks."

The cover is brilliant because it is not didactic; it doesn't leap off the page and smack you on the nose for being an oblivious dolt.  Instead, it blends the timeless with the present to remind us of the limits of our mammalian brains.  Our brains are fantastic pattern-recognition machines provided patterns conform to the scale of our humanity.  But there are events in the world that defy our sensibilities, rendering our efforts to shape them mockeries of competence and comprehension.

In a strange way, the illustrations in "The Goblin Prince" and "The Fox and the Shadow" are wonderful because they work similarly and also at cross purposes as that New Yorker cover.  They work similarly because they combine the classic with the contemporary in exciting ways.  Hetsi and Agorot are green-skinned humanoids (like most mythological goblins) but have expressive ears and body language (Anne's idea, a unique feature).  The Fox and his world start brightly colored and cheerful (classic fable material) but slowly darken as the story twists into something decidedly un-childlike.

However, their intention is to take ideas larger than any individual such as the duty of the parent to a child and the relationship of humanity to the natural world, and make them bite-sized.  That is the great gift any great illustrator gives her writer.  Even if you never read a word of either book, you can understand almost everything through the illustrations.  You can know how much Agorot idolizes Hetsi and how Hetsi adores his son.  You can understand the monstrosity of the Fox's actions toward his shadow.  As "The Fox and the Shadow" moves toward completion, the interplay between the words and images invigorate me like a warm summer afternoon scented by freshly ground coffee.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Writing, Rewriting, Rewriting, Rewriting

"Reckoning" is changing, both the planet and the story.  It was overly long at points, short on description at others.  Its new flaws will reveal themselves with revision and re-reading.  They will emerge like knots appears under the carver's hands.

Writing is an immensely enjoyable process.  I put down words and watch stories unfurl.  My problems forgotten, I revel in the joy of creation.  But it impossible to write something worth reading on the first pass.  For every moment spent writing, I spend dozens revising.  That is not an exaggeration.  It took about twenty minutes to write "Adam and the Misshapen Log".  It is now on its twentieth version (I track them, oddly enough) with each full edit taking a few hours or more.

It can be disheartening, this endless process of revision.  Happily, I have quotes from greater writers that promise a payoff in the end.

"I have rewritten- often several times- every word I have ever written.  My pencils outlast their erasers." Vladimir Nabokov

"The difference between the right and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug."  Mark Twain

So let me know, dear readers, if I have gotten at least one word right, if I have captured a little lightning in the latest revision and expansion of "Reckoning".  And then, next week, you'll watch the battle continue.

As for when it ends?  Well, I'll leave you with this:

"Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned."  Oscar Wilde