the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Month: June, 2013

Not Writing

by MDY

Sometimes you’re not ready. I stopped writing fiction a few months after I graduated from high school. I joked it was a sabbatical, but the truth was I didn’t have anything left to say. Only after five years do I feel ready to create again. Writing is a responsibility and it has its consequences; if the time is out of joint, anything you say will be used against you. I used to write about telepathic trees and spirit animals, not knowing enough about workdays and false loves to trust myself with anything less surreal. My soft toys were always boys because my only experience of girls back then was games of tag and cooties in the playground, and to have given Snooty or September a female voice would’ve been impossible even within the largesse of my imaginative licence. It’s far easier to write what you know that what you don’t.

Some things are not meant to be written. Lives are like kittens: open the box and their state of being irrevocably changes. I’m not particularly eloquent by nature nor nurture. But all too often when I’ve applied myself to paper, the results have thrown up things which might have been better left hidden. We’re not speaking and I feel like I should go first but how? I still don’t know where the words come from, but they all too often tell a truth which breaks down more fragile things: friendships, jokes, bonds of trust. It’s far easier to write what you don’t know than what you do.

One of the epigrams in the book my reader bought me informs that “writers don’t take holidays,” or words to that effect. I feel this to be slightly disingenuous not just because of the implication that I am a writer, but that repose is not an intrinsic part of our condition. Only in not writing – whether out of ennui, febrility, or misplacement of the heart – can we give birth to the people (and animals, and trees) which inhabit our stories, and place in them the same purpose and doubt which wrestle within ourselves. We have a responsibility to our creations: to treat them with honour, and imbue them with a fighting chance. Fomenting all these things in a single brain is no slothful task. It’s far easier to write than not to.

Writing Live Stories

by MDY

Since my days of formative reading, I’ve been inclined to reserve all judgements – except, that is, in matters of stylistic representation. If there’s one thing which makes us all writers in some respect, it’s the telling of our own stories, the recounting and narratological adaptation of our lives into screenplays projected into the eyelids of another. In primary school, recount was the first form of writing we learnt. “Write about your excursion to the beach”; “recount a highlight moment of your holidays”. We’re all born storytellers, but that initial spark disappears all too quickly within the triptych of Exposition, Development, and Recapitulation (or, as they said in primary school, Introduction-Complication-Resolution). Focus too much on plot, and the true heart of your story – the shimmering mirage of a chance observation, an echo weathered down to diamond by memory – will fall from its ribcage to bounce down the wayside, caked in the dust and murk of polite disinterest.

When I tell stories, I make all the mistakes. Details are omitted then doubled back to by way of back-street tangents, hoisted up from the brooding corners where they’ve slunk to. Events of great magnitude are reduced to shrunken-head footnotes and strung up on beads around amusing minutiae, inflated past the point of verbobesity. I ask my audience where I was going with my story, not to create engagement via dialogue but because I’ve genuinely forgotten. I ramble, I dissociate, I laugh at my own jokes. Even the old legends – the formative writings of chance and coincidence which ricocheted me into my current status – get warped and regurgitated anew with each new telling. If my prose has a reputation for concision, my spoken word is literally eloquent: talkative, in an outward direction, with no end.

On the weekend, as I climbed a hill, I overtook a young girl who was pushing her bicycle upwards with difficulty. Her father, already some hundred metres ahead, soon noticed this filial absence and doubled back. He quietly took hold of his daughter’s bike and pushed it up to the hill’s zenith, at which she remounted and pedalled away without a backward glance. That is the sort of tale which needs no embellishment nor explanation. It is too quiet a tale to tell at parties or gatherings or first dates with people who already believe in you as a writer before you’ve even met. Its rightful place is sequestered in your empty ribcage, passing judgement on all you say is true.

Mastering Literary Symbolism

by MDY

In Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (a marvellously acute study in tonal control and poignancy, but that’s by the by), narrator Christopher is by dint of his autistic tendencies unable to comprehend figurative language. That is, when someone says “it’s raining cats and dogs”, Christopher struggles to reconcile this statement with a lack of defenestrated domestic animals either feline or canine. Symbolism is slightly harder to explain. It usually takes the form of an object representing something else (often less corporeal, like a feeling or a memory) within the rules of the literature at hand. When a character leaves a notebook from an old lover on her desk, that is symbolism. When a character takes up orchestral percussion to relieve her stress, that is not symbolism of this kind. However, it is a pun.

The best way to understand symbolism is to observe it in our natural lives. At my graduation ceremony, for example, the act of throwing a horse-tailed hat in the air means that  the person throwing the hat feels elated, is proud of the work they have done over the past few years, “is a success” (in the words of the distinguished writing-person who gave a speech at the ceremony), et c. Symbolism here, as also often elsewhere, is reliant on the surrounding situation: throwing (or indeed wearing) a tasselled felt square would be considered cause for strange glances or persecution in places outside a university. Transplanting symbols into inappropriate contexts is a good way to tell your readers things, such as when a character tosses a mortarboard on the battlefield instead of at university to signify that academic merit means not much in the real world. That too is a kind of pun.

Literary symbolism is hard to get right, but the cheat’s way (in other words, the only one) is to draw from things which mean something to you. My reader gave me two books to celebrate my graduation, both of which are symbols which say “I care about you”. The words written in the card are also symbols: for example, “while you don’t think it’s a big deal” means “I understand that you have different priorities from everybody else but I want you to feel special despite or because of that”. Often, the symbols you weave into your drafts – like eye-patches, unreachable windows, primary-school lapel pins – tell you things about yourself which you didn’t know you know as well as adding texture and colour to your prosetry. Like the reverberation of cymbals in an empty hall, they’re shorthand for what can’t be expressed in words alone.