Friday, 9 October 2009

7 Quick Takes (XIII)

1. I just saw this on MSN News: http://www.good.is/post/african-dynamo/?GT1=48001. So cool.

2. Saturday night, I went to volunteer and help set up for Run for the Cure. Not too much to say about that, really. It was at Keyano College, and was not really all that labour-intensive.

3. On Sunday, I made the interesting discovery that the special deadline for Queen's students for the OGS application (that's "Ontario Graduate Scholarship") had passed. This lead to stress and then to research, which led to more stress. On the one hand, I learned that a number of programs I want to apply to have deadlines in January, which is more than doable. On the other hand, I learned that one program--a nice one--has a deadline in early November. Yikes.
And later, I learned that the OGS deadline in fact has not passed. So all that work I haven't done on the application because I thought it was too late all of a sudden is looming in on me. I am now behind schedule. Fortunately, I have this weekend to get my act together and catch right up.

4. On Monday, I started to feel sick at work. On Tuesday, I went home sick within half an hour of arriving. I was off Tuesday through Thursday. Jon can attest to the fact that I have the tendency to try and, uh, ignore my symptoms and go to class anyway. He has lectured me about this in the past. Anyway, remembering what Jon said about rest and what my coworkers said about not spreading my sickness to them, I stayed home.

5. And started watching the first season of Battlestar Gallactica again. Yeah, yeah, nerdy or whatever.
Actually, this deserves a minute. Let's think on this. Is anybody in a position to tease anyone else about TV shows any more? Unless you don't watch TV at all, you likely have some guilty pleasure. It doesn't matter what you watch; nothing is above some sort of critique. Even the award-winners, like ER or CSI or Law and Order, can have assorted accusations leveled against them, from gore-mongering to predictability to being a soap opera. And at least the acting and scriptwriting in Battlestar are good, so you can't hit it with the standard attacks on sci-fi as being poorly-developed trash. If you don't watch TV at all, I'd really ask if you have a platform to stand on there, too: for one, if you haven't watched the show, where do you get your information by which you make these judgements?
Back to the bullet, though. I do quite want to watch the second season now. How long can I wait before I justify making another personal purchase? Sadly, after my holiday, I'd have to say I should wait until November, anyway.

6. I finished Stephen King's On Writing. Now I'm having worries over my writing career. King recommends spending 4-6 hours per day reading and writing. Some days I must make that, but others will be far from it. Lately writing anything other than this blog has been difficult. Granted, King takes that into account. He says that each person will produce at their own pace: James Joyce, for instance, reputedly worked at less than seven words a day. It was either Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf who spent an entire afternoon over a comma. Perhaps at some point I will make a post discussing some of King's advice and put it up under "Writer's Package." Some of it contradicts what I've put up there before, of course. Kay, I think, would like King's sense of spontaneous development.
But still, with a full-time job and assorted ways I like to waste my time, 4-6 hours a day is not a good thing to hear. Then again, I can spit in King's face (metaphorically) and do it my own way.

The question of course is, will that work?

7. I continue to struggle with the narrative styles of the sources I have to read in my research. This is at work. Some of the documents I'm reading are written by people whose prose style is less than aesthetic or literary. Sometimes it's endearing and funny, and other times it's frustrating. The grammatical sense of some of these writers frustrates me, but I suppose they haven't been educated as much as I have been in these sorts of things. (That still gets me though, because grammar is not THAT HARD!) (Sorry.) But their sense of flow is also odd. When I voiced my frustration, a coworker of mine--the one whose recent experiences have included the less-than-corporeal--said she found the one author difficult because she (the author) tended to go off on long digressions on how great religion is. Now, I've been catching hints of anti-religious sentiment in this coworker lately, so I'm wondering when I'm going to have to deal with that. I didn't find that all too problematic, considering that the writer is a nun, after all, and much of her thesis in these books (if she really has one) is the Sovereignty and Goodness of God. I'm here directly referencing the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson, which tells the story of her capture, captivity, and ransom by New England aboriginal people, but by the title you can tell that one of her major concerns is how great God is and how this experience transformed and was transformed by her spiritual life. (Note: I've linked to Wikipedia here, but the article sucks, particularly in its dismissiveness towards "the Puritan mind." This page will give you enough information for my purposes, but if you're curious, I really suggest you look elsewhere than Wikipedia.) Similarly, while this book may be about the services rendered by the Grey Nuns of Montreal to the communities of northern Canada, it is also about the ways in which God works through the Grey Nuns to impact these northern communities. Of course I'm trapsing all over the Intentional Fallacy here (you can see where I stepped in it trod all over what I just wrote if you look carefully enough), but since the author does believe that God most specifically works through these women, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that this idea was at least present in her mind when she wrote the book.

What irks me is the patchiness of the narrative and the almost casual way with which she deals with the gory and horrible. Infanticide is mentioned without squeamishness, though with explicit compassion. One sister mangled her hand in a laundry machine, but the author rendered this anecdote almost comically, along the lines of, "She obviously pulled her hand out immediately, but unfortunately left her ring and her finger behind." That's not to say that I wouldn't have perhaps delivered the same story in a similar way, but only to people I knew and who knew I felt compassion even though I was maybe employing dark humour along the way. Publication, though? I don't know.
Another thing that bothers me is her use of the phrases, "There is no need to emphasize that...", or, "Obviously...", or something similar.
Lastly and on a more positive note, these odd stylistic choices are sometimes amusing or endearing. For instance, in a memoir, we find the following (paraphrased): "There are lots more things I would like to discuss, especially concerning religion, but I keep losing my pencil, so can't write them down as they come to my mind." That might not be verbatim, but I think it captures the sense and the personality/diction of it. As much as similar things appear on this blog, I would never include something like that in a memoir. But that's just it, right? What I think of as my objectives in a memoir are likely not the same as this woman does; if they are, then my means of getting their certainly are not the same. Those traits that I think of as lending credibility or honesty or authority to my story are not the same as those traits this woman thinks of as lending etc. etc. etc. The hybridity of conversational and formal tone I use here, on my blog, is closer to something I think she's trying to acheive. I get the sense that she's thinking of this more as writing a letter than as writing a book. There's a familiarity to it, a consciousness of the physical and social space that she's writing in, that is utterly unlike what I think of as 'formal writing.'

In a sense, despite the irritation I feel as I try to pull information from rambling, anecdotal, grammatically incoherent (sometimes it really is impossible to figure out what the author meant thanks to typos or grammatical fumbles), and colloquial sources, I also realize the placedness of my own sense of "good writing"(don't worry, I'll explain what I mean by that). I've grown up and/or been educated with a number of assumptions of how to write so your reader will respect you, understand you, feel comfortable with what you've written, enjoy what you've written, and in the end believe you. However, all of these techniques or rules or objectives I've learned are particular to a limited number of audiences. Quite frankly, those audiences are far removed from the audiences that populate rural northern Canada, many of whom speak English as a second language and many of whom have not been educated in anything like the standards we expect in southern Ontario (for instance, a number likely didn't graduate from grade eleven). This may be a literate audience, but it's not a literary audience, that's for sure. It's an audience of trappers and farmers and industry workers who couldn't write like Louis L'Amour (or, if you want a more modern example, Dan Brown) if they spent years at it. I think of some of the people who went to my home church or went to my elementary school. The word "unsophisticated" comes to mind. And the style of these books, with all of their preoccupations and taboos and ethnic slurs and litanies of who was related to whom and who died when or how and what the family thought of that, is precisely the most meaningful, or at least entertaining and communicative, to this group of people.

I am not questioning my own literary modes or ambitions here. Not at all. I am getting, I think, the beginning of an insight. These books may not less difficult for me, but perhaps with this realization in mind they will be more bearable and more interesting.

And if you somehow sat through that jumbled mess of thought up there, I am both flattered because you thought it was worth it and proud that you managed to tie together my own digressions and preoccupations. And jargon. I wish there was an easier way to describe a "preoccupation".

And that, my friends, is 7.

I'd direct you, as usual, to the Quick Takes Queen, but she's going wireless for one week, so I wish her well in that (heehee, alliteration) and will not link.

Adieu.

3 comments:

yolanda said...

I think it was Baudelaire with that comma thing. I'm pretty sure it was a French author.
My internet is actually fast enough to post a comment!

Jon Wong said...

I have concluded that Stephen King is incapable of looking normal in photos.

Christian H said...

I remember where I got Jane Austen from.
Prof. Morrison was talking about how lucky Jane Austen was compared to Felicia Hemens, because Hemens was writing to support her family (as a single mother) while Austen had all the time and money she needed. Therefore she could afford to spend an entire morning putting in a comma and spend an entire afternoon talking the comma back out.

That's where I got the idea it was Austen.

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