Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Surprises, Connections

Today has been a bit different. For one thing, it began with an actual sunrise, in the form of a layer of brightness stretched across the horizon, backlighting Mt. Rainier (which is South-southeast of here) and revealing the line of the Cascades that from here looks as though it curves along the mainland coast (which it doesn't!), a view I hadn't seen since my arrival. But today was different, also, because it wasn't quiet. A cleaning crew spent the day on the apartment below me, and that ended up being amazingly distracting. (Perhaps because I'd come to expect absolute quiet?) And then there was the weather. The clouds overhead began as a thin layer of low stratus, but as the morning wore on, grew thicker and thicker. Rainier all but vanished by noon. And so I decided to take my walk before rather than after lunch. For most of the day I could see the sun's location (though not the sun itself)-- never very high in the sky. In Washington state in late November and December, the sun lurks in the low southern sky, never rising much above 2 o'clock. It rises in the south-southeast and then sets in the south-southwest.

Because I walked early, the tide had only just started to go out; instead of jellyfish, I encountered bright blue bench cushions tossed onto the rocks at different places on the beach. The air felt a lot warmer, even though the wind was as wild as it had been on Monday. I had two moments of surprise. As I approached Point Wilson, a flock of small white birds, that I think must be sanderlings, fluttered up from the rocks (surprising because I at first took the birds for wind-tossed specks of foam), wheeled into formation, and flew out over the water. The second moment came when I got as close to the point as I could with the tide so high-- abut a hundred feet short of the tip; sitting on a boulder, looking at the water, I got weirdly and sickeningly dizzy and disoriented. After about half a minute, I realized why: facing the water, to my right, the waves were rolling straight up the beach, while to my left they were coming in aslant, and directly before me they were coming in... sideways. Waves moving sideways? I can see why my brain didn't at first know what it was looking at. Once I'd figured it out, I regained my equilibrium. I tramped over the rocks, past the lighthouse then, to the west side of the point. The wind was hardly blowing on that side, which made the water placid, and yet the heaviness of the clouds to the north and the west made the water and sky darker. Seagulls and ducks (which were entirely absent from the water on the other side) bobbed on the surface. It was like another world. The walk back, though into the wind, was easier because the waterline had receded a decent amount.

By 3:30, when I looked up from the ms, it was raining and the mountains gone. So I'm feeling pleased with myself for going out early.

Yesterday I wrote

On the one hand, I need to experience that intimacy and near-identity with my characters (while enjoying the luxury of knowing deep down that I'm not actually them).

But it occurred to me this morning that that probably sounds simpler than I intended it to. And so I want to elaborate a bit. "Near-identity" is shorthand. See, I've long thought it necessary for me, while writing novels, to perform a sort of Stanislavski method for inhabiting viewpoint characters, so that I have a deep sense, somehow, in my very body, what it's like to be that person at any given moment they inhabit, what I would see through their eyes, what I would hear, feel, and of course most obviously think were I them. But at the same time, subjective identity is always a fragmented process-- no one is always "I" at every instant. (And certainly not the same "I" from moment to moment.) Memory provides the bridges needed to link all the different moments and iterations of "I"-- especially body memory. And although paying too much attention to the splits and divisions breaking up identity always bears the threat of ruining the kind of characterization needed to make most fiction-reading experiences work, still, I take those splits and divisions as a necessary aspect of that "near-identity"-- and the reason, perhaps, that it's possible even to iamgine one's achieved near-identity with the character. The memories (physical and mental) I endow the character with are in a sense precisely my way into near-identity with them. And of course I assume that at some subliminal level that is probably the reader's way into them, too (even if they have to furnish some of those memories themselves). (As I recall, Samuel R. Delany talks a little about the writer's need to draw on readers' own memories in one of his essays on writing.)

Still haven't seen a seal pup (or even an adult seal). But deer roam the park, and marmots rustle through the patches of thorny canes, now stripped of berries and leaves, and every morning I hear a variety of birdsong, including some that I never hear in the city.

Is the natural world a gateway to an imaginative space just as fantastic as a wardrobe door in certain fantasies? It sounds a bit too romantic for me to believe, don't you think? But for now at least, I'm thinking that it is.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"Is the natural world a gateway to an imaginative space just as fantastic as a wardrobe door in certain fantasies? It sounds a bit too romantic for me to believe, don't you think? But for now at least, I'm thinking that it is."

That doesn't sound too romantic, not at all. That wardrobe door image resonates so strongly to so many people that there must be something to it.

I have been reading Gloria Anzaldùa's essay “Creativity and Switching Modes of Consciousness” (from The Gloria Anzaldùa Reader, ed. AnaLouise Keating). She talks about the way writers and artists move between "waking conscious reality" and multiple worlds of the imagination, which to her are just as real as "official reality." She writes:

“The spirit world, the underworld, and the world of imagination can be experienced as one world or as several. A person in the Santerìa tradition will say that stones talk to her. Somebody in the western mode will disagree and insist that stones can't talk to her, but for the Santerìa both are equally real. Because the various worlds are equally real, we can have the presence of the tree or the rock talking to us. The wind or the whirlwind are bringers of messages, while 'Western man' would call these messages acts of imagination, of fiction.”

I personally often experience a weird "doubling," in which part of me is reacting to the external world, but a larger part is living with an image from a book I have read, or a story I am writing - in what I would call the dream world. That's my home. If I spend too much time away, I become an emotional wreck. So, Anzaldùa's writings feel right to me, as does your image.

Sounds like you're having a wonderful retreat!