Learning from the Best

Three of the seven publishers I sent queries about Where The HeArt Is have said no, the other four are yet to respond. I am not entering the slough of despond about this, have decided to not think about it until we get back from a June trip that edges in to July. So, in mid-July I’ll think about what next with it.

Which then reminds me of re-reading Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red because I have been reading a series of lectures he gave recently about writing. He’s one of my favourite authors, and I also like what he writes about writing. I had forgotten things about My Name is Red, like the awful

way the apprentices are treated, including being sodomised by their “masters.” I was, however, fascinated all over again by the miniaturists of late fifteenth century Istanbul and how they ply their trade and deal (or not) with influences coming in from Europe. It’s a fascinating book on a number of levels.

The online reading group has finished Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and started on Demons (also known as The Possessed) next week. If you want to join in, go to http://projectdblog.wordpress.com/ The writing in The Idiot was somewhat overwrought for my taste, but I did get into it. D’s issues are big ones that remain relevant, like what does it mean to be “good” and how society and the individual influence each other, and so on. Here are

some choice phrases to illustrate my designation “overwrought: “exclaimed with spiteful vexation,” “said impatiently and wrathfully,” “grinned bitterly and sarcastically.” The word “wrath” (and its derivatives) is used over and over; I’ll be looking out for it in Demons. And I noticed that Pamuk uses “wrath” several times in My Name is Red. Mind you, the latter is set in 1491 Istanbul, it would be harder to use in a contemporary setting but what are the odds against me giving it a go sometime soon?

I’ve started Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Good Squad, which is causing a stir on bookish bits of the internet, and just won the Pulitzer.

The best commentary I have seen on it is at the New Yorker Book Bench, which you can access without being a subscriber at http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/bookclub/

I am playing around with other kinds of writing. I did an exercise involving analysing a short story and writing one to reflect it in several aspects. I chose a Lydia Davis story, and as she doesn’t do plot in a conventional way, I had to selectively follow the instructions. The story I wrote myself is inconsequential, but it feels as though it was a worthwhile thing to do. Nowhere near as good, of course, as Lydia Davis. I am reminded of the way artists used to — maybe they still do — learn by making copies of works by famous painters.

Here’s the story I wrote after examining the Lydia Davis one. I am encouraged to show it by the fact that the other members of my writing group liked it. I have incorporated their excellent suggestions. I’ve been thinking about the writing group and how it works a lot lately and will write something about it and take it to our next session and see how other members feel about me publishing in here about it.

The Visit
Dad asks how my studies are going and I say “Good,” which is partly true. There’s no way I could explain to my father the ways in which they are not going well. It would take forever, and he wouldn’t understand anyway. So, good is the right word and doesn’t tell the half of it; I could never explain how having my mother’s piano would make a difference to addressing what my teacher called “the emotional void” in my “technically excellent” violin playing.

Wanting something from an elderly parent is difficult, especially when the something you want is emotional for you both. Joe has come to support me but he doesn’t understand why it’s so difficult to ask. In his family they just ask, and people just say yes or no and that’s an end to it. Also, I we have different ideas about all kinds of things, like sometimes I think he’s shouting and tell him to stop and he is surprised and bewildered. Shouting makes me curl up like a quivering ball inside.

Joe told Dad a funny story that happened at his work and that made us all laugh. Everything felt less tense and that meant it was a good time for me say what I wanted, but I was enjoying feeling more relaxed and didn’t want to spoil it. Then Dad started one of his stories from the old days and he kept referring to me and saying that’s how it was, wasn’t it girlie, and I would say yes. When Dad opened the photograph album on the coffee table, I felt Joe looking at me intently and I knew he was sending me a message to get on with it. I was getting on with it. Joe like sthere to be a straight line between things, the shortest route you might say.

It wasn’t long before Dad had to pee and he said he’d put the jug on for a cuppa while he was up. I said I would help (I didn’t want him carrying hot cups) and went into the kitchen. Joe followed. Of course he wanted to know why I hadn’t asked yet, and I said I had to do it the way we did things in my family. He shrugged and noticed how dirty the kitchen was and got down some cups and washed them thoroughly.

Dad came into the kitchen and said he’d make some cheese and crackers. We said no need and Dad got the sulks and went on about how he could still make sure we didn’t do the drive home without eating something and he knew it was no good inviting us to supper so the least we could do was have a snack before dealing with the motorway. He had some gingernuts somewhere too. Joe said all right then. I knew he was trying to do things my way. I got down a plate and washed and dried it. They both looked at me as though I was being a fusspot then looked at each other and smiled.

Getting us something to eat had cheered Dad up; he positively bounced back into the sitting room and let us carry everything, forgetting about the photographs and the old stories. He and Joe started a conversation about the cricket and Joe said he thought South Africa would take the World Cup and Dad said, no, India, and they chatted away about spin bowling and slow wickets and short outfields and I didn’t say anything. Neither of them gave the Black Caps a chance. While they talked about the failures of New Zealand Cricket to bring through young players, I watched the dust particles dancing around in the sunlight, and thought about getting a cleaner for Dad and how to get him to agree to that. But not today, there was something else today.

For an hour or so the two of them talked sport and I practiced what I would say in my head. And wondered whether the itches around my ankles meant there were fleas. The conversation between the two men drifted to a close about when I was thinking that probably half the people in the world liked talking about sport and half didn’t.

Then I asked. And Dad said yes right away. He hadn’t played a note on that piano for years, of course we could have it moved to our place. Dad and Joe got to talking about carriers and arrangements.

I thought about how the afternoon had started off with me and Joe on a mission to get something from Dad, then shifted to me and Dad and the past, with Joe on the outside, and again to Joe and Dad and the plate then the cricket, and when I asked it was easy, and Dad never said a word about how much that piano had meant to my mother and that straight lines weren’t always the best way to go.

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