It’s been a while since I’ve had one of these. It was beautiful up there in the sun with new leaves all around. I saw so much in that peaceful one hour walk. Here’s a bit of it. (Click any photo to enlarge.)
Author Archives: Lilian Nattel
This pothole has been around on Palmerston Square for a while. Recently someone anonymously filled it in with earth and planted flowers. Neighbourliness and creativity abound.
Passover is here, which means eating matzah, also chocolate and more eggs than usual. This year during the seder one line struck me from our (radically abridged) reading of the Hagaddah: “Today we are slaves; next year may we be free.” It contradicts a note I have taped to my wall as a reminder: “you are free.”
There is this contradiction between feeling free, as in the experience of making choices and free will, and feeling trapped the way we do when fears hem us around, fears that seem both groundless and inevitable in the mental arguments that often accompany them.
There is also a contradiction between the subjective feeling of choice making and the research that shows how easily the human brain can be manipulated through priming of words or images. Even holding a heavier clipboard makes the material attached to the clipboard seem weightier. We are shaped, more than we realize, by the messages with which we are bombarded on a daily basis.
I’m working on a book set in the Soviet Union. Every day I am grateful that we don’t have a gulag. But we are subject to propaganda in the form of spin and in the form of media, which relies on sensation, not reportage, to keep it afloat.
If we are slaves, then who is the master? There are all kinds of conspiracy theories out there, to which I don’t personally subscribe. Perhaps then the master is our own brain, which is so susceptible to cues like the clipboard. Then let us choose our own cues, let us re-write the stories we tell ourselves about what today is worth and what tomorrow may bring. Put the BS on a light clipboard.
May we all be free.
The figure skaters at the World Championship competition, held this past week in London, Ontario, are the top skaters in the world. And they fall. They fall on their bums in front of a packed stadium, eyes upon them, and in front of TV cameras that represent the millions watching from home. They work all year–for years–for the 3 minute short program and 6 minute free skate. They are young, they defy gravity, and they fall.
At least as a writer I get the chance to revise. Being a writer is more like being a hockey player. There are good games and bad games. Sometimes you’re on, and sometimes you’re off. You get to the playoffs or you don’t. You keep playing. Because you love it.
Being a writer is sometimes lonely and sad: you’ve got no chance for a gold medal or the Stanley Cup; the Prime Minister of your country does not write a book about you. But on the flip side, you don’t get concussions and best of all you don’t fall on your bum in front of millions of people.
You can be eighty years old, like Alice Munro, and publish another good book. That is something to aspire to.
Shape and colour and reflected light. You have to imagine the smell of muddy grass, the sound of the camera clicking, which is itself an artifact, an imitation of shutter and film, since digital cameras don’t need to click. I saw a toddler with an IPad the other day. She was tapping and sliding geometric shapes intended to mimic a child’s blocks. I wondered whether she played with actual blocks. (Click on photos to enlarge.)
This is a starling, not one of the nobility like eagle and hawk, but a common bird. I see them around here all the time. They’re extroverts, gregarious, noted for nothing more particular than their strong feet. But look at the sheen on the feathers, the gloss of purple, the blue feathers bordered in gold.
I am reading Alice Munro because she is brilliant. In the mid 1990s, I studied her stories for “weather,” ie the external details that make a story come alive. In the margins of a book of her short stories, I wrote “clothing,” “smell”, “rain.” Then I added weather to the next draft of The River Midnight and it suddenly popped into the third dimension.
In my new novel the main character meets many minor characters who come and go, so there isn’t the time to develop them in the way of characters who remain throughout a novel. Hence I am studying Alice Munro to see how she quickly and deftly sketches a character. It’s a hard study because the stories are too absorbing; I forget to notice technique. In Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, what I am noticing are the sudden twists: surprising, shocking, brilliant.
Maybe I will learn something different than what I was looking for.
I was walking and saw a slight indentation in the sidewalk. It was the shape of an inverted V. I stood over it with my camera and took a series of pictures. As I bent closer, I noticed a crevice at the tip. Bending closer still, I crouched over it. With my nose practically inside what, from a distance, was a finger mark in cement, I saw treasure:
Writing is like that too. On intense examination, a crack opens into a cavern where there are treasures, which change everything. Structure, story line, the hero, the villain. And you know more about the world than you started out with.
Inside the upper window is a wide bottomed jar with yellow paint or yellow peppers, also a blue-green mural with a giant eye, which might be the reflection of something across the street, or a black and white lamp in front of a wall. I saw none of it from the corner where I took the picture; it became visible when I studied the image on my laptop, expanding it by holding it down under a mouse. That’s how it is with developing characters, too. I turn them this way and that, study them from close and far, guess at glimpses, make much of hints only to find out the hint was something else entirely. It takes time, study, humility. I will be wrong at first. I will think a lamp is an eye, that paint is peppers, that a reflection is an interior.