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Posts Tagged ‘still life with woodpecker’

 

I feel like I’m learning how to read again. Since I’ve become an English major, books have become a strange way of life. Of course, reading and literature has always had a huge space in my life, but now, as a student of words and paragraphs and metaphors, they have become this unsciencey-science. Books are a sort of sterile mess that I have to sort through, siphon in and then suck back out again in intro-body-conclusion form. Somewhere along this glorious road of a BA in English, I’ve lost the simple pleasure and curiosity that is inherent in sitting down and reading.

It’s spring break for me and I am about 1/4 of the way into Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. It was given to me as a gift and I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s a dense novel (though short at only 277 pages) centering around an exiled princess of a nondescript kingdom named Leigh-Cheri. Living in “the last quarter of the twentieth century”, Leigh-Cheri is a young woman itching to make a difference in the world. Until she meets Woodpecker, a serial bomber and makeshift philosopher.

This story has a thickness that seems impenetrable, but not in a Foucault sort of way (did I just make the comparison? Someone kill me before I get even MORE pretentious). I’ve been reading on and off since Thursday and I am only on page 83. A better word is rich. Robbins folds in surprising little details that shock and amaze, but he walks away from them as if the little explosion on the page was nothing compared to the blast that will come. He definitely commits to his style of multi-layer adjectives and descriptions. In a strange way, each word seems to build from one to another until the bubble bursts and a bold, type-writer script number and decorative filigree signal the next chapter. In fact, each little chapter could function as a short story. A confusing short story, but a short story nonetheless.

I couldn’t have asked for a better book to usher my return to contemporary literature as a mere observer, instead of a unsciencey-scientist, with my stethoscope to check the narrative’s respiration a and centrifuge to mix in my own interpretation. It lifts me out of my English major consciousness. I can’t wrangle this bull. I just have to watch it buck around the ring for awhile.

Lately, I’ve been having many, many problems getting back into a a nice niche of fiction writing. I can’t say it’s writer’s block, really. No, I can write. It’s just horrible and dry. This does not happen in my scripts or nonfiction. Those pursuits are alive and well. It’s just this fiction that gives me fits until I want to rip out every one of my eyelashes and press the backspace button until everything is erased and gone.

Woodpecker might just be the salve I need. See, I think my problem is that after a while, my vision gets blurry. And by vision, I mean my writerly vision. Or as my Indian professor would say, “wision”. I lose track of where my story is going. I drag everything behind me like a criminal’s body through cobblestone streets. I just need to let things roll. Do some push ups. Turn some cartwheels. Shake it like a Polaroid picture. And most importantly, I need to be less critical.

Annie Dillard has an amazing point in what I like to call her writing textbook, The Writing Life. She, in a less trite way, say that your audience for your books should be the terminally ill. You can’t waste their time with a story that is not your best. Don’t put it away for another day when you’re “better” or less busy. Do it now. Work.

Tomorrow, I am devoting the day to writing and reading. At night, when my eyes are tired, I’ll sew. But in the afternoon, I am going to sit in a chair and write until I don’t want to pluck my eyelashes out. Because someday, I’m going to be terminally ill, and I don’t want there to be ink still left in my pen.

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