It’s all rock ‘n’ roll to me.

Digital image, Copyright 2011 Marriah Bishop, used with permission.

My daughter has started painting. She also takes a lot of photos (digital and old school 35mm). Lately, I’ve been struck by the contrast between her two arts—and how those differences relate to writing.

Photographers strive to capture images of what’s already visible in the world and focus in on it, with the goal of revealing what exists—what is tangible, what is right there in front of us—in a new way, making people see.

And, of course, most artists wielding a camera hope to make us feel—to invoke peace, hope, or joy showing the lovely things that exist all around us. To stir up empathy or make us angry (thus, hopefully, motivated to do something about whatever issue riled us up). To kindle awe or understanding about the world around us. To make us laugh. To make us cry. But they attempt to do that by showing us what already exists.

Painters, or the ones whose work I relate to most anyway, seem to approach their work the opposite way. They start with reaction (emotion) triggered by something real and try to express how feeling looks. The results on the canvas may be realistic and identifiable—a brook, a tree, a face . . . but they just as easily might be abstract colours and shapes and form, or some combination thereof. The final piece creates something real, yet isn’t fact-based or often a literal representation.

For me, those visual processes are close cousins to writing—non-fiction is like photography. I write about what really exists, for a variety of reasons—to create a record, to encourage, to challenge, to entertain, to inform. . . .

In fiction, I start with an idea or emotion or question and explore it through story—sometimes realistic, sometimes absolutely fantastic. Every time, with the hope of stirring the fears, concerns, rages—and the dreams, worries, and hopes—of the reader. I’m not concerned with the factual at all.

Whether the setting is a modern high school classroom, the moon, or a castle in a land of fairies, what I want is for people to feel—to recognise that emotional truths exist separate from literal events, times and places. After all, there’s something surreal about being human—there’s our physical reality, but then again, something so, so much more than that, in which we live and move and have our being.

Poetry and music are like what mixed-media is to visual arts—seeking to express what almost defies expression, to give substance to what is invisible yet is also somehow the crux of existence. Oxygen to plant life.

I read a comment on a blog recently that said that “real” writers don’t write blogs. (The irony that the comment was made on a blog, by a writer made me smile—and in a large part helped fuel this slightly odd post. As much as I see differences within the forms, mostly I see connections and related pathways between all modes of artistic and creative output. I’m not sure there’s any definitive definition for a writer—except that he or she writes. And although it’s interesting and fun (perhaps even helpful, occasionally) to wax poetic on the purpose and function of various forms of writing, I don’t know if it really matters how or why or what a person writes.

What about you? Do you write in a variety forms? Are you a writer and another type of artist as well? If yes, how do your processes/intentions differ according to the craft? If no, any specific reason why not?

Back on the horse

I found it pretty amusing (actually giggled) when I popped in to my little cobweb-growing blog today and realized that the last thing I posted before disappearing into the offline hinterlands for over a month was basically an ode to the online writing world. I really wasn’t trying to be a big hypocrite, I promise.

The online world is everything to me that “Can a writer (or should a writer) ever go it alone” claimed it was—but sometimes the physical world seduces me away (especially in the summer) and/or less romantic aspects of “real life” demand my attention.

And while I didn’t fall off my writing and editing pony, a bit of sacrifice was needed and that sacrifice was called Internet Time.

Now though, my holidays are but good memories of sunshine, sand, salt water, and visits with dear friends and family. The sky has opened up (yet again) and there are (still more) record rainfalls. My kids and husband have returned to school and regular work hours. The end of September is herding me, as it usually does, back here and to various other online haunts. Yep, I’m back on the horse again (even if I still feel slightly headless).

I like the renewed discipline and passion that always seems to strike at this time of year, along with a fresh sense of possibility and promise. I love that September beckons to October—who will come quickly and bring SiWC along with. I revel in a return to warm drinks perched close by and the soothing click-click of keyboard keys.

In the summer, I work hard to fit my writing in. In the fall and winter, the long evenings and nights remind me that I’ve been silly. What could there ever be to do that’s more important or more fun than getting my thoughts down and letting stories run from my brain to the page?

How about you, dear readers? Are you back, comfy in the saddle of your desk chair, or do you need to go off on a few more end-of-summer gallops before reining yourself in?

Either way, happy reading, writing and dreaming this autumn! I’ll say good night now, before I stretch my already thin metaphor to breaking point.  🙂

~Ev

What Writing Means To Me

I was just tagged by my friend and fellow author Jen Brubacher in a meme about what writing means to me.

She wrote that writing is truth and her elaborations are so perfect and true that I’m kind of jealous she wrote it, not me. It’s particularly worth reading for a certain drunken dwarf’s quote and her thoughts on said quote.

The person who tagged her, Icy Sedgwick, wrote that writing is escapism—and I wonder, really, if any writer lives who wouldn’t agree with her on some level at least.

And the “it” who got Icy? Tony Noland, who expressed that writing is freedom.

And just before him, Ruchira Mandal expounded on how writing is a journey.

Am I trying to cheat by giving the answers those other writers provided? Not at all. It’s just that their answers fit perfectly with what I want to say: writing is many things to me. The reasons I write, what I “get” from my writing, and how I feel about the process vary from day to day, even from hour to hour—yet I find there are always similar tendrils of desire as put my pen to paper or my fingers to my keyboard (to discover, to explore what’s “known,” to have fun).

Writing is a science—especially non-fiction, where I work from a hypothesis (thesis!) (articulated or not) and hone each phrase, insert each fact, and carefully draw each picture or stage I want to reveal to my reader, all the while deliberating on what I know and what I can reasonably infer about life.

The results can be surprising—sometime I realize I need to discard my initial premise because my experimenting (my writing) reveals a flaw in my thinking or logic—a new hypothesis is needed. Other times, the conclusion is exactly what I had hoped/envisioned/felt sure it would be—very affirming stuff. And, as in all science, while there are breakthroughs and massive epiphanies, there is never an arrival moment where all is known, all is suddenly clear.

And writing is magic—especially fiction. Us odd few called to the task, take strange ingredients, some commonplace, some only hinted at in polite company, some imagined, some completely undefined, only intuited, and throw them all together in simmering mess (or carefully measure out and weigh and add in at specific times, depending on our style).

It’s a shadowy art, unpredictable and dangerous even when it’s white. It’s often exhilarating, joyful and fun—but no words appear without some personal sacrifice (even if it’s just time that we worry could or should be better spent) and sometimes there is pain.

When the magic works, we conjure people long dead and still to come. We play with time, sending readers back and forward in both this world and others. A barrage of scents—good and gross—waft from our pages. People curl up, relax and smile—and freeze, sweat, flinch and flee—at what we smooth across their brow, glide along their chest—jab into their bellies. They grow embarrassed, become livid and enraged—weep, laugh, bite their lip and nod—with emotions evoked by lines of text.

We reveal strangers’ stories and end up showing the readers themselves. We hold up a mirror, but it’s our guts and innards that are reflected back at the reader with their lives, past and present, transposed over top.

When the magic doesn’t work—or, at least, doesn’t yield the results we were aiming for—we, sometimes weeping, bleeding, and beaten, return to our worktables to try different combinations, to explore different roots and weeds. We work, despite the pitying looks of naysayers and the laughter, even jeers, of those who doubt our ability or think we’re merely crazy for trying.

And why do people turn to science and/or magic? Because they are searching. They are longing. I am searching. I am longing. For connection, for understanding, for hope and to give hope . . . for many things actually. So for me, perhaps above all else, writing is a quest.

I don’t know why you write or what writing means to you—perhaps, like me, you find your thoughts on the subject toss and change like the ocean—but I’d like to find out and would love you to share thoughts here.

And to keep the meme-tag game going, I tag:

Laura Best
Jennifer Neri
Angela Dorsey
Kathy Chung
Vello Sork

Star Spinner

My family plays a game called Star Spinner. You go outside when it’s dark and find a large field (or at the very least, a space moderately free of dangerous obstacles). One person has a flashlight (turned off for the time being) and heads away from the group. Everyone playing holds his/her arms out to their sides and spins and spins and spins, until from far away the flashlight holder yells, “Go!” and turns on the light.

Dizzy and blind—laughing hysterically, shrieking with nervousness or moaning with a sick feeling of nausea—each person runs as fast at they can (which is always, at best, some lurching, stumbling gait) toward the light.

I’ve played many times, but I’m still not sure who wins. I think the person who gets closest to the target thinks it’s him, but really it’s anyone who participates, who runs stumbling toward their goal, who gets up after falling, who perseveres in spite of the nagging, sensible voices in their heads and the fear (it’s dark; you’re dizzy; you might fall; stand still for crying out loud, stand still!).

Lying (inevitably) on the cool grass, staring up at the stars, still feeling slightly queasy (from spinning, from laughing, from nerves), it doesn’t matter how far you got. You’re just pleased you played. You were dizzy, had no idea where to go, but you ran full out.

Star Spinner—in addition to being just a crazy amount of fun—has always struck me as a powerful metaphor for various aspects of life: for writing, for faith, for relationships. . . .

I can only see so much—and half the time I’m anxious beyond words—but if I push past that and run screaming and laughing into the dark, I overcome fear and realize I’m completely exhilarated. The goal is often still shining somewhere beyond me, but the more I play, the more that part doesn’t matter.