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I discovered something recently while searching through an old journal. I have told the story many times of how I came to write Angel, how I was inspired by a trip to Mount Rainer and the question of why a man would leave the ministry for a career as a mountain tour guide. “Why did the minister go to the mountain?” was a regular writing prompt for years. I wanted to bring out all those themes of natural beauty, transcendence, and the impermanence of life in the shadow of a sleeping volcano. I knew what the heart of the conflict had to be– a minister had to fall out of step with his congregation. He would have some sort of change in his worldview. I kept going back to what that change might be. Over the years I tried a number of different plots and nothing quite worked until I saw an image of a beautiful man, and meditated on my aesthetic response to his beauty. That is when the idea hit me that my minister might do the same, and this might be the thing that would put him in conflict with his congregation. From that point the story flowed as if it had already been written and I just had to take dictation.

That is how I thought it had happened. But memory is not always a faithful recorder of events. Apparently my subconscious had been at work on the novel for some time when I had that eureka moment. When I looked back in my journal at my earliest ideas for the novel I was then calling “The Minister and the Mountain,” written in 2000 immediately after my return from Seattle, I discovered two things. There was a draft of what is now the final scene in the book. It is quite similar to the final version. There was also my first idea of what the plot of the book should be. My very first idea for the central conflict had been that the minister would fall in love with another man. Why did I abandon that promising plot line and put it so far out of my mind that I forgot I’d ever thought of it? I don’t remember, and the journal doesn’t really say. The most likely explanation is that the idea scared me. It seemed too incendiary and I was not yet brave enough to tackle it. I ran away.

That was only 14 years ago, but it seems a world away.

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My Novel is Growing Obsolete— And I am Glad

"The growing body of cross-cultural research that the three researchers were compiling suggested that the mind’s capacity to mold itself to cultural and environmental settings was far greater than had been assumed. The most interesting thing about cultures may not be in the observable things they do—the rituals, eating preferences, codes of behavior, and the like—but in the way they mold our most fundamental conscious and unconscious thinking and perception."

"We Aren’t the World" by Ethan Watters

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Someone really ought to tell the life story of Lord Alfred Douglas as a comedy. The poet is remembered as a player in that grand drama, the downfall of Oscar Wilde. It would be a dark comedy, of course, comedy and tragedy are closely linked. I have been reading some contemporary newspaper accounts of the Lord’s life following Wilde’s imprisonment and it is tremendously entertaining. We find Lord Alfred, an aristocrat just a bit out of his time, living in the dawning of the best age to be an English Lord. He struts into every story, impeccably dressed, sometimes in a top hat. Justices address him as “your lordship” while telling him off for believing himself to be above court rules. He is haughty, entitled, sharp tongued when angered, and perfectly well mannered and charming when he is not. So often, when reading contemporary accounts of him, one cannot help but laugh.

His life was full of the most insane episodes.
[…]
Much later a newspaper printed Douglas’s obituary summing up his life essentially by saying that he had squandered his good name and would be remembered, if at all, for nothing but scandal. The only problem was Douglas wasn’t quite dead yet. Instead of issuing a big, fat apology, the newspaper decided to plead justification. That is, “OK, so you’re not really dead. Our bad. But we stand by our assessment that you’ve lead a lousy life and should be quickly forgotten after you die. Have a nice day.”

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Comedy and Tragedy by Laura Lee (via jonwildling)

(via jonwildling)

theparisreview:

Geoff Dyer’s ten rules for writing fiction
1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over—or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”
2 Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris,dans les cafés … Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.
3 Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.
4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto-correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche,” “phoy” becomes “photography” and so on. Genius!
5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.
6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
7 Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.
8 Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought—even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
9 Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.
10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.
(via)

theparisreview:

Geoff Dyer’s ten rules for writing fiction

1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over—or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”

Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris,dans les cafés … Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.

3 Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.

4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto-correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche,” “phoy” becomes “photography” and so on. Genius!

5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.

8 Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought—even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.

10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

(via)

I would like you to stop for a moment an imagine a self-esteem workshop for a group of pre-teen boys.  What types of activities do you think might be planned?  What would the boys do?  Really think about this for a moment before I go on.  What comes to mind when you think of boys and self-esteem building?

ImageNow, I want to tell you about a workshop called “Boys Unstoppable!” The workshop is put together by a company in the personal care industry.  The boys arrive with their dads.  They sit down at tables and find paper and magic markers.

The leader, known as a “Self-esteem Ambassador” first asks the boys to think about their dad and his appearance.  The Ambassador asks each boy to write down anything he has heard his dad say about his looks.  Then the boys create a second column, and they write down how those statements made them feel.

One boy, Tommy, starts to fidget in his chair. Why do they have to think so much about their feelings?  It’s a nice day out. Can’t they go out and do something?

The Ambassador smiles like a salesman or a Ken doll.  He introduces the next exercise.  The boys are asked to think about all of the good things about themselves.  Then the Ambassador hands out “confidence cards.”

The cards say “I have a beautiful________”

The Ambassador tells them to fill out as many cards as they want.

Tommy stares at the cards.  “I have a beautiful face?” he thinks.  Not really, he thinks, but he writes it down anyway.

The exercise is kind of hard.  It’s hard to fit what he is good at into that sentence without it sounding weird.

“I have beautiful math skill.”

Tommy thinks about last week when he won the 100 yard dash.  He was proud of that.  “I have beautiful running skill” is awkward. So he writes “I have beautiful feet.”

That’s not right.  He gives up and looks out the window.

“What’s wrong?” asks the Ambassador with a kind of cheery sympathy.

“I can’t think of anything,” Tommy says.

The Ambassador tilts his head. Tommy can tell he is thinking that the boy is a real hard case.  He must have no confidence at all.  It’s worse than he thought.

(Read the full article on my blog by following the link)

thedailyballet:

Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov in Don Quixote.
Photo (c) Irina Lepnyova.

thedailyballet:

Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov in Don Quixote.

Photo (c) Irina Lepnyova.

Let’s say I do go to a “right-to-carry” church. The reason that I’m not going to tense up if Deacon Billy’s pistol falls out of his pocket while he’s passing the offering plate is because good people like Deacon Billy don’t shoot people; bad people do.

If I carry a gun into church, I am embodying a two-fold doctrine of sin: 1) There is no danger that I would be tempted to sin with my gun (like in the heat of an argument over the church budget or a sermon that sounds un-Biblical). 2) There is enough danger from the wickedness “out there” that I should be armed in case the bad people storm our building and start shooting. This two-fold doctrine of sin could be termed the total depravity of everyone else.

"Most fundamentally, I used to write because I received positive feedback. To a guy who was picked on pretty relentlessly through a lot of his childhood, the respect and affection of students and teachers is addictive. It was a couple years after grad school that I realized that a need for affirmation wasn’t a good enough reason to keep writing, especially in the face of rejection after rejection after even personal rejection, and that if I was going to do it, I had to acknowledge that it was going to take my whole life. The decision to do it until I’m dead has made the writing and the writing life so much easier."

— Donald Dunbar, in the Poetry Foundation blog

Tags: writing

I have been reading a lot of biographies lately, mostly of Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.  They have left me wondering if “that which is the man” can ever be captured in a biography.

In life you never experience a person the way you do in a biography.  You never get an overview of a whole life– the same person in his context as a worker, a family man, a lover, a friend, a debtor, in all of his moods: when he is up, when he is down.  You have impressions of people.  You know parts of them.  A biographer tries to harmonize all of the impressions he or she can collect from people who caught these glimpses, who knew the person in part.

Who has the truth? Is the opinion of a person who dislikes you, colored by the memory of a bad experience less “true” than the memory of the person who was delighted by you? Is the truth the middle ground of these two poles or are you actually both things at the same time– a thoughtless person and a thoughtful person, depending on the context?

(Read the full article via the link)

"There is absolutely no evidence that low self-esteem in particularly harmful. It’s not at all a cause of poor academic performance. People with low self-esteem seem to do just as well in life as people with high self-esteem. In fact, they may do better, because they often try harder."

— Nicholas Emler, social researcher at the London School of Economics, New York Times Magazine, February 3, 2002