Quote of the Day: "If you stop greasing your axles, it is a sign that you have stopped caring for yourself." (from Hector, quote from existentialist folk singer in Argentina).
Yesterday was the first writers meet up between me and Hector, linguistics guru, Santa Barbara Writers Conference photographer, and my close-to-next-door-neighbor. Hector and I are united very deeply by common interests and experiences: (1) academia, (2) cross-national identities (Argentine-Jew and Greek-American) (3) writing stories, and (4) photography.
I have come to realize that sharing stories with other people is a VERY intimate experience. You come to know and understand the structure and content of the human mind through writing analysis. It's amazing to be surrounded by talented writers who are alive (not dead figures all in a different century, my high school literature experience)--and all live in Santa Barbara.
Our meeting yesterday was a very positive, useful experience, and I am excited that we will be meeting this upcoming Wednesday for a short time as well.
This PDF below is the modified version of "The Scale of Gigi," which was commented on by Hector.
Having only two of us at a writers group was VERY constructive for me. Listening to the writing of multiple people is quite overwhelming and difficult to dissect. But if you are interacting with one other person, you really start to think about "the method to the madness," or more so trying to dig into the brains of Shelly Lowenkopf and myself, and discover, and analyze the underlying components that weave together the fabric of superb storytelling. I started making a list below (which I implemented yesterday in my thought processes):
(1). The element that ties all variables together into a fabric is the UNDERLYING MOTIVE. THE PURPOSE. The problem and the drama and the dilemma that intrigues the reader to run the page. The reader attaches to the STRUGGLE and the TURMOIL. The way how I construct characters was through understanding of myself (1) my motives (2) my unique history (3) my current options (4) my current constraints. The whole "god-grant-me-the-serenity-to-accept-the-things-I-cannot-change-courage-to-change-the-things-I-can-wisdom-to-tell-the-difference" effect. Besides viewing a story from externalized factors (outside the brain of the main character), e.g. decriptions of other characters and landscapes, it is important to document the multi-layered internal view of the main character(s): (1) desperation, fixation (2) emotion (3) rationale. If you remain highly internalized, then the internal atmosphere of the characters mind warps external reality.
(2). Other knobs to tweak: "the time-dependent matrix effect" of SETTING, CHARACTERS, PLOT and their proportions and overall ratios of use, which affects pacing. What data to include and not include. Who knows what and why.
(3). COGNITIVE MAPPING AND VISUALIZATION. When reading a story, the best thing to do is to create a series of SYMBOLIZED COGNITIVE MAPS of the story (aka STORYBOARDING), much like when geologists analyze the layers of an outcrop. You invent and include symbols in space and time to assess the level of consistency of events and who knows what. I also see it as VIDEOGAME DESIGN, constructing OBJECTS-SUBJECTS IN A BOX and their interactions (much like how organisms interact with their environments and each other overall). These simple visualization diagrams for a story can be also considered as a series of VISUALIZED FOOTBALL PLAY DIAGRAMS. The other practice that I engaged upon (thanks to Michael Hanrahan and Blue Horizons at UCSB) is that I read the story like a SCREEN WRITER. I pretended that I was going to adopt the story into a movie. I started to identify plot, setting, character components, in addition to setting up what types of shots to be set up--wide angle, close up, pan, etcetera.
Writing is painting a moving picture. It's an investigation of an optimal distribution of pigeonholes in space and time that holistically stimulate the human mind in an optimal way. Hence the whole Dartboard Theory on how to manipulate humans that I presented to Toastmasters a few weeks ago.
For example, with Hector's story, "Identity," I started to create a time-dependent matrix, much like a movie editing sequence like in Final Cut Pro (or even music editing in Sonar Home Studio), and I came to realize that holistically, the ratio of plot to character to setting was a bit imbalanced--too much setting in the beginning let me dangling a bit in terms of "where was this story going." Hector then realized there was an entire paragraph that--though had historical and aside humorous significance--did not tighly intertwine or directly function with the plot and direction of the story.
In terms of traditional writing versus science and environmental writing, I am starting to identify overarching themes: (1) personal experience deeply tied with universal reality, scientists find emotional attachment to universal truths (2) the gradiation from "one death is a tragedy to 1000 deaths is statistics" (3) the "environment" or "setting" is not just "static backdrop" but becomes more connected and intertwined with the main characters and the plot. Emotional connections are being made with landscapes. Landscapes may start to become more described in human characteristics. Well, fxck. Don't go there! HUMANS ANTHROPOMORPHIZE EVERYTHING! If humans label elements of the environment, then they are automatically projecting their HUMAN PERCEPTION on the element or the overall system! Geez shapooey!
I am also interested in writing an essay on "Evolutionary Psychology and New Analytical Techniques in English Literature." Applications of evolutionary psychological knowledge and how humans tell stories.
Having described some mechanisms I started using for literature analysis..... Hector and I both took turns reading our short stories. We only got through one story each, which was great. Before story-reading, we started with a warm-up. I took some cool silhouette pictures of hummingbirds with a mega-lens 17-300mm vibration reduction.
Hector read a story entitled "Identity" (as mentioned before, but to elaborate, there is historical and family significance, a story written by Hector through his grandfather's eyes, Jewish in a non-Jew Argentine landscape, the whole UCSB Gaucho thing), which he apparently read to Shelly Lowenkopf's group. Hector thought I would have no quibbles with the story (which was already critiqued), but I actually had three major qualms: (1) the title needed to reflect the story a little bit more, which I emailed him today (it needs to incoporate the notions of identity, encounter, and the knife, but in a direct or indirect way) (it's funny to think when you title a short story "Identity" the first thing that comes to my mind is some drugged-up-depressed-east-coast-intelligent-prozac-girl struggling to survive the next day, maybe it's my Elizabeth Wurtzel encounter... or something) (2) the setting description was out of proportion with the rest of the story--it was "drifting" for a little bit, with no sense of directionality, which Hector responded well to, and (3) the climax moment of the protagonist's decision (which I won't give away) had emotional disconnect and disjunctness such that it didn't flow. Hector wanted to maintain the element of surprise, but the event and train of thought was so surprising that it was disconnecting. Hector needed to add something such that his grandfather can remain "desperately rational" rather than "schizophreniac." Which I think he did change a few words. But that was all that was needed.
Hector's writing is very concise and to the point. No flowery bullshxt. His scientific streaks emerge in the precision of his writing. He also has very simple word usage, which is very good. I need to work on that a little bit. Well, it depends on the audience. Ugh. I am learning. Learning to write. Adapting and manipulating the audience.
Sometimes I need to remain unreasonable. It's not like people understand Descartes on the first read, but somehow it's still intellectually acceptable to read this guy on pot. I think I need to write a short essay on a Brief History of Western Philosophy: Evolution of Human Thought Mediated by Mind-Altering Substances. Just like the whole Painted Cave, Shamanism thing. Given what they were writing, Plato MUST had been tripping out on whatever hallucinogen, or something. That would be a great thesis: Western Philosophers are equivalent to quasi-secularized Shamans. What a trip! Piss off a bunch of social scientists. Drugs and the evolution of thought. Re-analyzing history of philosophy and science through the perspective of mind-altering substances.
Reading The Scale of Gigi to Hector was great: (1) I did not humiliate myself in front of Shelly's story-driven fiction group, and (2) I became re-conscientious of my own mechanisms of writing.
**For one thing, I am integrating science and the human experience. This story was 10% fiction and 90% philosophy. Just like many great philosophers. But unfortunately not your mainstream style and a more difficult read. It's just where my mind is. There are many authors/journalists out there who make scientists' lives adventure stories. I am sure over time, my writing will transition from 90-10 to 50-50. The most important element right now for my writing is establishing self-sanity. And I will do whatever it takes. I am not worried about writing quick fix airplane blockbuster reads--which is essentially what most New York Bestsellers are nowadays.
**In "The Scale of Gigi" I used too much technical jargon for Shelly's group, but probably just fine for a philosophy of science journal or maybe even science journalism.
**Hector argued that this story was not personal, when indeed it was very very personal to me. My experiences in the world and in the university has trained me to understand myself and my relations to the environment in more universal terms. From an outsider perspective, this essay is a transitional comparison of a character Uabwa (who is a scientist) going from a small Gigi in some forest to a megascale Gigi that spans across the entire globe. Uabwa, who was unaware of her sense of place in small-scale Gigi, acquired a tangled knot in her mind's heart, and she needed to unravel and come to understand why she was mentally struggling so hard in Supersized Gigi. I had come to realize retroactively, the character Uabwa was essentially ME--transitioning from a (non-internet) high school environment to a (altered-technological-communication-regime) megaCollege environment far away from home in Riverside, California. In high school, I had this whole illusion of community and meaning and purpose and when college hit, all of the illusion fell apart. And I found out I was a nothing, nobody. I was a number. I was a sandgrain. I was one of six billion. I still am, but in Santa Barbara, the community is so intellectually and emotionally stimulating that I need to live here and I don't care if the rest of the world fxcks itself over. I am convinced the community of Santa Barbara can still exist in relative isolation from the rest of the global human meshpot. Pardon me for my streak of optimism in a well of pessimism. (aside: high school ritual burn schoolwork)
**The other thing I tend to do is describe human society through "biological parallels"--bryozoans, coral reefs, zooid boxes, honeycomb matrices, primordial ooze, Petri dish full of bacterial, pinball (okay, that's more physics). I have re-projected myself upon human systems based on my knowledge in ecology and evolution. That is why I need these parallels.
**Given my writing phase, I need to get it out, because it's not economically profitable, but more for mental sanity. Upon rewritng and rewriting and re-understanding and assessing the "audience," it is a difficult road to connect the "shallow" with the "deep." To take the public down the rabbithole of science and philosophy, and then to challenge scientists and ask them to take a step back and ask what the big picture is. Right now, I need to clear out my own head, and I don't have much summer left to do that!
Before I left to go home and attempt to "chill out," Hector related a story to me in concern of how he got involved in science. At age 7, Hector's parents took Hector to the Buenos Aires airport (which was very tiny). His father made a claim that all airplanes were the same size no matter what distance they were (some relativity effect). It ended up that this claim turned out to be wrong when a small two-seater dropped from the sky and pulled up to a mega-plane. More relativistic trickery in size and scale! Though Hector loved his parents dearly, he came to realize that they could be wrong and he needed to think for himself. My sister obviously snapped at age 10, with those horrid fights with my mother. As for me, I remained obedient. Obedience to my mother and pleasing my parents and teachers was more important than thinking for myself. Until age 17. Then life and death choices forced me to overthrow people's projections upon me. I was forced to think for myself.
I submitted "The Scale of Gigi" to SEED Magazine a couple of hours ago and thanked them for the inspiration. Otherwise, the story needs to sit!