On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I'm starting a weather journal. In it, I daily (or thereabouts) jot down quick notes on the weather that day. Dumb? Not for a writer. It's amazing how the weather can affect us. For example, yesterday was warm for September, with a lazy, hazy feel to the slanted sunlight. The air was humid, mind-drugging, yet the wind was strong, and it was slightly cool. I found myself daydreaming about similar days--I could remember lying on the raft in the lake after school, probably the last swimming day of the year. I recalled similar afternoons when we went outside for marching band practice, and I could feel the slight trickle of sweat between my breasts under the starched cotton of my Peter-Pan-collared blouse (yes, I'm old).

Such sensations are mere stepping stones to deeper human emotions, triggers to half-forgotten events that could be distorted and reused in my writing. By writing such clues and cues down, I will have a source to check when trying to evoke a sense of environment in a story or novel. And who knows? A weather-related memory might even spark a whole new story.

This is just one way you might use a journal. For a writer, it can be an invaluable asset.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What's your passion?

Where does your comfort greet you best? Some people feel most at ease in their homes, some at church of synagogue. Still others feel their minds click in a classroom, some come alive at the local pub. For me, my optimum playing field has always been a theater: not a movie theater, but a stage theater, where live performers elicit laughter and tears.

I first discovered my affinity when I was 15--up until then, I'd always enjoyed performing--in school skits, accordion recitals, band concerts. But that year I joined the local community theater and found an entire new world, one where my bones relaxed, my juices flowed, my soul felt free, all in that space divided into "stage" and "house." This feeling--let's call it an obsession, a fancy, a fetish, a consumption, a compulsion--has never gone away. When I am in a theater, I am home.

So what's your passion? More important to a writer, what passion drives your characters? Even if you never fully explore the idea, you must know what moves your characters' wheels. A woman who enjoys fly fishing has some different fires than the one who lives to shoe shop. Or does your character love both? Whatever drives your creation, you must understand it, or at least appreciate and respect it, and write that into your work.

Know thyself, but more important, know thy characters. The more real they are to you, the more real they will be to your reader.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

It's been a bad year for opera aficionados. Beverly Sills, Jerry Hadley, and now Luciano Pavarotti. After each death I felt as though a particle of light had flickered and disappeared. Beverly Sills had been an inspiration to me in my youth--she was, like me, Jewish and not conventionally pretty. She also, like me, had a sassy candor with a fresh sense of humor. Yet she possessed the confidence I lacked, the ability to charm, the ability to see and create great beauty. I wanted to be like her--I wanted to be her. I loved her exuberance, envied the joie de vivre she brought to every role she sang. Even before I loved opera, I loved "Bubbles."

I had the great good fortune to work with Jerry Hadley at the University of Illinois Krannert Opera Theater back in the late 70's. He was totally dedicated to his music, but he also, like Sills, had an irreverent quality, a sense of humor that made his characters real and accessible. From my view in the wings, I, along with the rest of the opera chorus, watched, entranced, as he played Rodolfo, Nemorino, Tom Rakewell, des Grieux, with grace and versatility. He was electrifying, his characters vivid and troubled and sexy, his voice powerful and emotional. In later years I listened to him on "Prairie Home Companion," bought his tapes, watched him on TV. He never failed to please an audience. I guess he had his own demons, though. How sad that he could not transcend his personal pain to immerse himself in the pleasure he brought others through his great talent.

Pavarotti. The name says it all. He is the gold standard for tenors, each high note a gift from heaven itself. He could be silly or serious, and played all roles as though his heart were in his voice. I would listen to his recordings and be transported by the purity of his sound, but there was more. There was a connection, a desire to communicate through the music, to create a perfect moment through a perfect note.

All three giants projected humanity through their voices and their acting. Their roles stick with us because they went beyond the technical aspect of producing notes, finding a spark of reality that made their characters live. They took chances and so entered our hearts. They are missed.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Recent AP headline found online: "Less M.D.'s Hours Doesn't Cut Death Rate."

What's wrong with this picture? The whole thing, from "less" (which should be "fewer" as in "fewer hours") to the use of the singular possessive for M.D. (which probably shouldn't be possessive anyway, as the M.D. could be used as an adjective describing the kind of hours) to the lack of agreement from "doesn't" ("fewer don't). It could be argued that the "doesn't" refers to the entire subject phrase, used as singular, but the rest is just wrong, wrong, wrong! The whole title should have been rewritten to be clearer and more accurate.

Sigh. If you can't trust the AP. . .