Monthly Archives: March 2012

Travel Inspires the Literary

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March has been a trying month for writing. It’s also been inspired. Such is the conundrum formed by moving to a foreign country and commencing a full-time job within the same week.

Along with an overabundance of unclaimed time that I never can quite enjoy while staying in the US, gone are the days of uninspired writing. While staying in Ohio and Tempe over winter (in the northern hemisphere) it was all I could do to get out a professional blog post, let alone one for my own blog. It was all I could do to write a journalistic article for my Hong Kong publisher. And heaven forbid I actually complete composing and/or editing any literary work. Everything sort of blends together. Little passion or inspiration comes long for the taking.

Peru, conversely, fuels my literary side. During my six-months in Lima last year, I started or advanced almost half a dozen literary essays and memoir pieces. Since the day of departure from the US on Thursday, 1 March, I’ve begun and completed composing two essays, a Q&A with a newly publisher writer, two professional blog posts, advanced editing of a third essay, and (as of this writing) am on my ninth ATW blog post for March. (All without reliable Internet connectivity for two weeks.) In addition I’ve sent out three submissions. Let’s hope that doesn’t turn into more, as I’m particularly wanting this Q&A to be accepted by the journal last submitted to. (Admittedly here lies a bit of humblebraggadocio.)

Considering my new full-time job started on 5 March, it’s surprising that I’ve accomplished even what writing I have. My free hours have plummeted since days in the US like Wiley Coyote down a canyon wall. There is no more self-pitying time than when the literary spark hits an obstacle like time commitments. The experience has me rolling my eyes less frequently over the number of I’m-too-busy-to-write posts available online. Rolling eyes has turned to empathizing.

Anyway, here’s an update about a piece cooking up in my literary kitchen, a CNF piece limited to 750 words.

This may be one of the most difficult pieces I’ve ever written. Then again, I could say that about anything I’m working on because each gives me courage to dig further and further into myself. They also give me ability to distance myself further and further away from the subject matter, in turn letting the piece become literature.

Lessons: To have the courage to stay in nonfiction rather than chickening out and pretending it’s fiction, which lends authors the ability to vent and to lie. The tight envelope of 750 words imposed by the publication that inspired this piece rather constricts. It also helps to write single moments poignantly, like time-lapse videos of water drops or insect action.

This length urges writers to choose content and verbiage wisely, perhaps more poetically, to use more skillful double entendres. “Keep it tight and honest,” Hemingway might have said.

As my first third-person piece, I’m elucidated to distance myself from the subject matter– a confounding, emotional one– to tell a story, not merely to dwell on me (as I’m doing ever so lengthily here).

Status: Composed all but complete; major editing required before submitting before the publication’s deadline.

As March closes, and this I-perspective blog post, thanks are in order. The flame of inspiration illuminates my days. Balance has not evaded me; I’m able to slow down when the flame becomes a torchthrower. My new job usurps more time and energy than expected yet has resulted in better planning and daily structuring, more productivity in literary output and quality, and clarity in other aspects of life.

Laughing through the Surreal, A Habit of Life Abroad

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Tonight seems to be the night for surreal moments that life abroad occasionally brings.

Tomorrow, four months after I interviewed for and received a job in Piura, Peru, and one month after my arrival here, a colleague and I will take a four-hour bus ride to Ecuador. There we will go to an appointment that last week was scheduled with a man whose being on vacation delayed my visa. Alas, a one-year work visa will ostensibly be granted.

Here’s where it gets surreal. Two days ago bus tickets were purchased for my colleague and me. Today, she texts me a few strange texts. Rains up north caused problems with our tickets. She will therefore have to repurchase new bus tickets to Macora, Ecuador. I do not know why rains invalidate pre-purchased bus tickets. However, I’m not in a rush to board a bus which likely will run on dirt or otherwise poorly constructed roads. Drivers here are renown for making fatal mistakes. A recent newspaper reported a bus that fell into an ‘abismo’, causing fatalities. Therefore, I’m plenty fine delaying the visa again if it means saving my life.

My colleague, seemingly panicking over the trip texts me on my phone for my phone number. Um…I’ll strike that up as nonsensical point number two.

I sat on the phone then, listening to this sane, soft-spoken woman, who I do like very much. But by the time she’d gone round and round and round about all the variables of tomorrow’s trip– which bus we’ll take, when we’ll meet, etc.– I became dizzy. We could meet at 530, or 6, or 930 am; we could take the bus the whole way or take a bus to a different station then take two taxis to get to the appointment. Finally, it was decided that the original plan, to board the 930 bus, would suffice. You learn when living abroad not to try to make sense out of certain situations. Logic evidently takes different forms in different countries. Instead, you also learn, to just laugh.

But wait, there’s more.

As my laughter ceases my landlord knocks on the door. She’s learned that I can interpret Spanish well enough so she usually speaks her lovely Spanish at mach speeds. The lavadora, she tells me, is fixed. I can now finish washing my clothes. I wasn’t sure this afternoon what had caused the washing machine to stop in mid cycle, filled up at it was with water, so I’d told here there was a problem. She said she’d have her husband look at it when he returned home. It was now hours later. So, I proceed to the rooftop where the washer is and where I enjoy hanging clothes on the lines. There’s still water in the machine, which makes me frown in question. Well, OK, I figure, I’ll just rerun the cycle. It doesn’t work. I try again. It doesn’t work. Who fixed this thing, a pastry chef? Laughter comes forth again while I shut the lid, turn the light off behind me, and return to my room. No laundry for tonight.

If all goes well and I make it alive back to Piura tomorrow night, I’ll again attempt the lavadora.

Hemingway’s Literary Aesthetics, The Clean Density

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Looks matter in literature. Flipping the pages of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Fina Vigía Edition the appearance of a few consecutive pages caught my eye.
Dialogue. Dialogue. My gracious it’s almost all dialogue.

A Mixed Blessing that He's This Gorgeous

What I’d found was “Fifty Grand”. Its first 15 pages bear about four percent narrative. On top of that, almost none of the lines of dialogue expands beyond two printed lines.
That’s sparse writing. It’s tight and harsh. It’s clean, simple, honest, as Papa says he likes it in Woody Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris. And before I even began to read the piece it seemed…sexy.

The story is about a boxer grown weary. His body’s fatigued from years of wear. He wants the warmth of his family. Yet he faces one last fight, one that wouldn’t be as formidable had he the will to fight it. He is no longer a fighter but an aging boxer. At an implicit request he agrees to throw the fight.

There’s Hemingway. Writing about men drinking, about men boxing. Writing about taking the just, courageous path in the face of inevitability, which is a fight worse than any physical event in the ring.

Hemingway gets a little gruesome in his details of this last fight, each word bears meaning. Each has purpose. Each is like a punch from the opponent. The result is to empathize with the boxer, to see his heroism.

It isn’t just Hemingway’s words. It’s also the method, called compression and expansion, he used to manifest this tale. It’s a phrase I know better through the architectural stylistics of Frank Lloyd Wright, another Oak Park, IL-personality for whom, again, looks matter. Compression and expansion works like this: Imagine walking into a home’s narrow, dim, abbreviated foyer only to have it lead to an expansive open-plan room with walls of windows and vaulted ceilings. It’s the unfolding of an almost religious, definitely liberating moment experience.

Hemingway has taken a lot of my reading time lately. His work reminds me to give my own some personality, now that I’ve made the bona fide switch from architecture journalism to literary nonfiction. The breathtakingly handsome writer’s methods like compression and expansion, manifested as simple yet dense lines uniform as a UPC, remind me to keep my own act clean. I’m looking forward to what else the aesthetics of his published work show me.