Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

viernes, marzo 31, 2006

La Primavera En El Norte

Last week I was in desde Desdemona squinting at the sun. The bay was turquoise. Butterflies swarmed. Then I returned to upstate New York. There was no snow. But there was also no color. No green. But regardless, and to my relief, Spring may be beginning.

The signs are clear. Redwing blackbirds always return during the first round of March Madness, blowing their whistles, calling fouls. Then robins. Geese fill the sky migrating back to Canada. Daylight savings time begins tomorrow. And tonight, mirabile dictu, at last the sound of the peepers. Not yet a whole celestial choir calling out all night long. Just a few singers. The Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) is pictured. And its calling is the surest sign of the arrioval of spring to these frozen places.

How strange. A few days ago in desde Desdemona I saw a bird I had never seen before. It was outside the kitchen window sitting on a bush. And it looked like this photo. This, I thought, is not something one sees in the Hudson Valley. Its color was so bright it was hard to believe it was real. And, I thought, this is possible only because of the bright, bright sun that makes me squint, and the clear Caribbean and the wild colors of the flowers and trees and fruit. And the millions of butterflies. And the way the inside of a papaya is bright orange and the way the inside of a mango is yellow yellow.

I want my life to be like this Hooded Oriole. I want my life to be, as Paul Simon wrote, bright like Kodachrome. I don't mind squinting. You remember how it goes: "Kodachrome/You give us those nice bright colors/You give us the greens of summers/ Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah!/I got a Nikon cameraI love to take a photograph/So Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away."

sábado, marzo 18, 2006

Aiming The Mind

John Updike is quoted as saying, "When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teen-aged boy finding them, and having them speak to him." This is meant not to be geographical: a little to the east of Kansas is Missouri. And those of us who have no real clue about Kansas (except that, Toto, we're not there anymore) probably don't know anything about Missouri either. I understand the remark to mean something about a literary ideal that lacks presumption. The remark also wonderfully raises the question for me of where I aim my mind when I write.

Where indeed. The Dream Antilles is a secret, moving, uncharted spot in the Caribbean, and its people, the locals and the tourists, are, well, not from Kansas. A wise person has told me these people seem autobiographical. So be it. Another might claim they are archetypes. I prefer to think of them as people. But where I aim my mind, dear reader, is another matter entirely.

It's true. Updike's metaphor is geographical, mine is metaphysical. I aim my mind for your heart. I want your heart and my mind to hug and have a conversation. I want your heart to fill with vast love, perfect justice, compassion, understanding, faith, hope, and joy, and I want my mind to put its arm around your heart's shoulder and whisper, "Isn't this really beautiful? Isn't peace worth the journey?" I want whatever rusted shutters are cloistering your heart to creak open so that you can be enveloped in bliss, peace and beauty. May it be so.

I have been called "so idealistic," as if that were not a good thing. And "optimistic." I don't really mind. I want to be like this, and no affront to the midwest, I'm happy I'm not aiming for a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I prefer reaching out and giving a hug.

miércoles, marzo 15, 2006

A Lion Making Moonlight More Intoxicating

Ben Okri (1959- )

"We are a people who are massaged by fictions; we grow up in a sea of narratives and myths, the perpetual invention of stories. ... Your mother would tell you stories to illustrate a hundred different points, lessons, morals she wanted to get across to you. Or you'd tell stories to one another as a way of making the moonlight more intoxicating, more beautiful."

Check out The Famished Road. It's the 1991 Booker Prize winner, and a knockout!

domingo, marzo 12, 2006

Kerouac's Birthday!!

This is a birthday to mark. It's a chance to notice the enormous influence Kerouac continues to exert. And it's a chance to remember how very much I was blown away when I first read On The Road. Is that what made me want to be a writer? Or did I just wish I could be that cool and wise? Or is that all same thing? All I know is that it's impossible for me to drive on a westbound Interstate (I did this yesterday on I-84, but that's another story) without thinking about this book. And whenever I'm stopped at a railroad crossing (this happens a lot in Chatham, New York) and see those boxcars with open doors, I remember Jack Kerouac and his stories.

From Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of Jack Kerouac, (books by this author) born Jean-Louise Kerouac, in Lowell Massachusetts (1922). He grew up speaking French, and couldn't speak English fluently until junior high. He was strong and athletic; he played football and he was good at it. In the Thanksgiving game of his senior year in high school he scored a game-winning touchdown—the ball was tipped, he stretched out and grabbed it inches from the ground, and smashed his way into the end zone. The fans went crazy, and there were college scouts there who got him an athletic scholarship to Columbia University. In the college newspaper they called him a "fleet-footed backfield ace," but he broke his leg early on and never played again.
But he became friends with other like-minded writers, including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. He took a series of cross-country road trips with his friend Neal Cassady. In 1949 they drove a Cadillac limousine from California to Chicago, going over 100 miles an hour on two-lane roads until the speedometer broke. In 1951 he sat at his kitchen table, taped sheets of Chinese art paper together to make a long roll, and wrote the story of Cassady and their trips. It had no paragraphs and very little punctuation and Allen Ginsberg called it "a magnificent single paragraph several blocks long, rolling, like the road itself." And that became his novel On the Road (1957).

lunes, marzo 06, 2006

Happy Birthday, Gabo!!

From Garrison Geillor in The Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of novelist Gabriel García Márquez, (books by this author) born in Aracataca, Columbia (1928). He's the oldest of eleven children, and he lived with his grandparents for the first eight years of his life. He said, "I grew up in a village hidden away among marshes and virgin forest on the Colombian north coast ... a place where the sea passes through every imaginable shade of blue." As a child, he loved listening to his grandfather's stories about the recent civil war and his grandmother's stories about ghosts, omens, premonitions, and dead ancestors.

He was working as a journalist when he took a trip back to his hometown to help his mother sell his grandparents' house. Over the course of that trip he was flooded with memories of his childhood and the stories told to him by his grandparents. A fictional town began to take shape in his mind, based on his memories, and he knew he had to write a novel about that town. He wrote five novels in the next fifteen years, but he wasn't satisfied with any of them.
In January of 1965, Márquez began to write about that town in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 and has gone on to write many more books, including Love in the Time of Cholera (1988) and The General in His Labyrinth (1989). His novel Memories of My Melancholy Whores came out in 2005.

Happy Birthday, Gabo!!

viernes, marzo 03, 2006

Visitors To The Hammock

"Fidel was invited there, right? And you made him promise not to tell anybody. That's very funny. You ask a guy who routinely talks extemporaneously to a crowd for 12 hours straight without any specific agenda, who digresses without worrying about whether he can ever get back to his main theme, to keep a secret. Fidel loves gossip. Anyway, he told me all about it, but I thought it was a bunch of bull and that he was pulling my leg. He claimed it relaxed him and that nobody there bothered him or interrupted his relaxation or questioned him about anything."

Bardo remembers Fidel’s visits. How he dressed in yellow Bermuda shorts and grubby t-shirts, his Churchill cigar hanging from his hand and how he spent time with his family. How, to Bardo’s disappointment, his military fatigues were nowhere to be found and he looked, except for the beard, and acted like any of the other visitors. "Have you heard about it from anyone else?"
From The Dream Antilles

And so, I wonder, dear reader, who may be lying in the hammock, completely content, thoroughly relaxed, listening to the sound of the reef and the birds , floating in the margin between awake and dreaming. Is it me? Is it Fidel? Is it you? Is it one of my characters? Or is it two?

"The rain bends the palm branches. It drips from every spiked leaf. The rain is heavy, but there is no wind. The air between the raindrops is saturated with mist. Small birds huddle close to the tree trunks and under eaves, ruffling their feathers and waiting. There are puddles on the walkways. The rain makes pocked patterns on the sea that shimmer and migrate like flocks of migrating birds. Ona and Rosa sit facing each other on a hammock, huddled over a battered wooden box, their legs crossed before them.

Rosa holds a faded, browned photograph of a strikingly beautiful, bare breasted woman standing on the beach, her arms on her hips, facing the camera. She is wearing a batik cloth about her hips and a radiant smile. "This," Ona says, "is the famous photograph of your great grandmother. Isn't she beautiful? I bet you don't remember her very clearly. But you used to sit on her lap, and she would tell you about the magical plants. And about how to use them. She didn't look like this then, did she?"
Rosa shakes her head. "She looks like you, mama," she says, holding the photograph up next to Ona's face. "She looks like you." She stares from face to photograph and photograph to face. She touches Ona's cheek. She smiles. She puts the photograph gently back in the box.
From The Dream Antilles