Idaho

When I was studying my Creative Writing module, as part of my English Language and Literature degree, my tutor spoke about a feature of writing that incorporated film techniques. She tried to make us incorporate some of these techniques in our own writing, and cited the example of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’, where the visual descriptions of Pip’s parents’ graves provide vivid imagery, almost like a camera panning out over the gravesite and then the view of the countryside spilling over the hills.

But that was where it stopped with Great Expectations.

And if you want to read a book that makes you feel like you are watching an emotive film, not just visually, then Idaho is the book for you.

Emily Ruskovich has a natural affinity for words. Her words are like vines, growing around the pages and entwining with her story, so they cease to be black letters on a white page, and instead become a blurred window into her motion picture.

She doesn’t just describe things, she adds a voice to them, increasing the volume when she needs to and beaming radio silence when the moment shouts for it. And what a loud silence it is.

And behind everything is the soft piano music, gently playing to the rhythm of the characters’ lives and they go forward and backward in time.

It is all very well for me to lament on the poetic nature of Ruskovich’s writing, but I expect the burning question you have is what is this book about?

And I shall tell you, and not tell you, all in one breath, because I can’t tell you what it is about without doing the book justice.

It’s about a family, both past and present, shattered by uncontrollable and controlled, horrific events, and a degenerative disease. It is breathtaking, yet slow paced. And it rises and rises in pitch as the book goes on, crashing loudly and beautifully at its highest peak, and then softly trundling down a rocky mountain towards the end. Ruskovich uses her writing talent to create a written film, and I mean this quite literally.

It took me three months to read this book. I know because I started it when my tulips started to sprout, and finished it today, when my tulips are long withered away and the summer flowers are in full bloom. It is a slow read, there is so much to take in, and the pace leaps about between timelines, so it is hard to keep up. I was also left frustrated at the end, because there were questions there that I felt weren’t answered sufficiently.

I sat back and thought about that, however. The book was written in such a way as to reflect real life themes, emotions and human growth and change, and in real life there aren’t always answers, there are only humans dealing with questions, and growing with them, until they become part of what defines us.

I thoroughly was mesmerized by Idaho, Emily Ruskovich ensnared me with her beautiful poetic prose, she flabbergasted me with how she dealt with such treacherous topics and yet managed to make something so vibrantly, painfully beautiful.

 

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Poetry

Am I a poet?

Goodness me, no.

I certainly have never called myself one. And I never will, for I am too old!

I used to write fanciful little limericks when I was younger, inspired by Tolkien, of course. The road goes ever on, and all that, about raindrops being like bits of broken glass. Classy. My mother told me that wasn’t a pretty description, but I so forcefully loved it that I kept it in anyway. What a small large headed fool.

I wrote little descriptive rhyming bits about all the girls in my class. They aimed to be humorous, and were received very well by my chums. Aren’t chums supportive.

I wrote what I, at the time, perceived to be ‘epics’. The lines still echo through my head, labour over them as I did at the age of 12.

Here is an excerpt:

Twenty thousand years ago there dwelled an old tree

Its beauty was so great, a splendour for eyes to see

Delightful charms it laid on people who dared to walk its way

It stood there drooping by night

But sprung up to life by day…

And so on, of course. It went on to erratically, messily describe battles and passions and disease through the passage of time. It trailed off somewhere vaguely, after about 20  pages, as my mind expanded a little more and became distracted by newer, shinier ideas.

And then, I grew to despise poetry. How absurd it all is, I thought, crossly, forced to analyse bits of Dryden I didn’t understand.

It shape-shifted before my eyes. It no longer had the elven eloquence Tolkien and Lewis and Wordsworth so earnestly declared it did. It grew horns and barred me from entry by using long and complicated words as weapons. I didn’t understand, and grew frustrated because I felt left out of a club in which I once felt welcomed.

I hate poetry, I told everybody. I am a prose girl.

So. I stopped writing it. Stopped reading it.

Until, a few years later into literary maturity, I happened across Langston Hughes. My goodness but he was raw and painful. And then he opened doors to me, doors leading to forms of poetry that didn’t rhyme, but which touched emotional chords within me, written by voices stamped and ravaged through the injustices of time – not the silken, baby skin of Wordsworth, that is for sure.

There ain’t no Klu Klux, on a 133rd.

And I grew to love it again.

So, no, I am not a poet. Poetry and I have a tumultuous, often disdainful relationship. The disdain is entirely mine, I am ashamed to say.

I daren’t dabble in it, for I would not do it justice at all.

But I love to read it, and reading other people’s poetry, especially on blogs, opens my mind more and more to it. Why, poetry is almost like an old, long lost friend!

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What do you think of poetry? Do you write it? Do share some of your favourite pieces, if you feel so inclined, for I would love to read them.

Love Letters #16

Handle with care. Don’t bark or bite. Step on egg shells around her. Oops. Made her upset again. I don’t know why. Or how. It’s all crumbling past my ears. I don’t know what I did wrong. Why is she so distant and moody. I only want to make her happy. That is all I care about. Why can’t she see that.

Dear Len

What if we both got in your old micra and drove down to Bradgate one evening. We could stay there till the sun sets, and have a little picnic. Maybe listen to some tunes. Spread a rug on the floor. Watch the horizon light up in flames, and as darkness spills over from the other edge of the world, slowly encompassing everything, we could watch the city lights twinkle on one by one. Until there is a crescendo of lights, magically winking through the distance. 

D

P.S. On Saturday. It’s forecasted to be sunny.

***

Sour expression. Again. Mouth set firmly. Slightly downturned. The left corner crinkles, pressed tightly. That’s how I know he’s upset. It’s because I didn’t sleep in that long car journey when I had that UTI and felt like there were knives slicing me open, and nausea and dizziness were threatening to tip me over the edge. How can you sleep when you feel like that, in a car? You just can’t. He was being too controlling. I didn’t sleep and now he’s been ignoring me for two days.

***

Fingers clutching ends of sleeves, hands barely visible, arms pulls over her chest. Head down. Can’t see her eyes. Don’t know whether she is sad or angry. Maybe both. Who knows these days. She doesn’t listen to me. Doesn’t she know I only want the best for her?

***

‘What’s wrong?’

Dreading the answer. Because I know what its going to be. He is always like this.

A shrug.

‘Nothing.’

Well it can’t be nothing. Else you wouldn’t be so distant.

‘There is something wrong. Talk to me.’

Set mouth. Staring at laptop. Watching Last Week Tonight.

‘Nothing.’

My heart is heavy. I hate this tirade. It’s exhausting. Over and over again. It’s too much effort. Something small could have set him off, and then he is moody for days. Days. Until I confront him about it, and these days I really don’t want to. Unnecessary effort. And he says am high maintenance.

Shall I give in and say sorry? I am cold at night. I need him to hold me. But why should it be like that? Why should he hold a grudge against me over something so insignificant and unnecessary?! It drives me mad!

Why should I say sorry when I didn’t do anything wrong? Why is he such a grown ass child? I am so sick of it. I have to torment myself for days while he becomes colder and colder and….

‘Maybe I am sick of my job. Maybe I have way too much on and very little help. Maybe I am sick of telling people what to do; because they are too useless to figure it out for themselves. Maybe there are too many demands on me. Maybe I am sick of travelling three hours a day to a job that doesn’t let me do what they employed me to do; that is, engineer their cars. No. They give me the filing paperwork crap that is useless and unnecessary. They employed an engineer to do secretarial work. What a waste of money and energy and brain cells.’

It burst out of him. The frustration only barely contained in his calm voice.

And that was all he said, all night.

Maybe I overreacted. Or maybe he used that to cover up some real resentment towards me. Or maybe I was being selfish and thinking his mood was all about me. Still. I don’t think he should take out his frustration on his wife, the only person who isn’t putting demands on him. I try to help him as much as I can. I don’t deserve such harshness. But. Well. People deal with stress in different ways. And he is under a lot of stress. I will give him a break.

For now.

But oh. My heart is so heavy.

N.B. He doesn’t really write like that. But in with his limited spelling and vast vocabulary, I am sure he could if he tried. What he did say sounded so much better, in his own special words, because I know him so well. It doesn’t translate so clearly in writing, though. Writing is in a league of its own.

 

 

There Ain’t No Klu Klux, on a 133rd.

My last exam of the year today.

Did I study enough? Does anyone ever?

Eh. Who am I kidding. I didn’t study enough. I know what good studying is. At this point, there is nothing more I can study.

I will write down this poem by Langston Hughes that I memorised, though. For practise, and because it is absolutely heartrending, and it is also one of my favourite poems.

I might make some mistakes.

‘Not a Movie’ – Langston Hughes

Well, they rocked him with road apples

because he tried to vote

and whipped his head with clubs

and he crawled on his knees to his house

and he caught the midnight train

and he crossed that Dixie line

Now he’s livin’

on a 133rd.

 

He didn’t stop in Washington

and he didn’t stop in Baltimore

neither in Newark on the way.

Six knots was on his head,

But thank God, he wasn’t dead!

And there ain’t no Klu Klux,

on a 133rd. 

I probably made some mistakes. But oh how sad this all is. Hopeful, of course, but so sad that it had to happen.

‘and there ain’t no Klu Klux on a 133rd’.

I could cry.

Out of nerves, out of sadness, who knows.

10:29PM

I

Submitted

My

Assignment

Finally

After

Three

Long

Weeks

of

Brain

Fever.

You would think I would be able to now breathe a lovely sigh of relief and lounge around with a tall glass of lemonade or, given the season, a big mug of thick, delicious melted chocolate.

But no, my loves. I have another assignment due in a week and a half. Luckily this is a creative writing assessment. Still exhausting, given that I don’t have free reign and must comply with textbook standards… but it is definitely (hopefully) easier than analysing female demons in Wuthering Heights!

A Dally of Musings

Hello yes, I am procrastinating.

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What I am supposed to be doing is analysing how a section of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi uses literary devices to present different themes, and how these distinctive features of language could be translated into performance.

It’s curious, it sounds so complicated. How do actors analyse literary devices and use them to act out how they think a character would have done.

I know it must be simpler than I imagine, and I could be simplifying it further by reading course material and analysing the play, rather than writing about my ignorant opinions.

I could be thinking about how an actor stands, and how it would affect the delivery of a line. Or whether a scene would become more dramatic if an actor were to sit on a chair during a dialogue, or stand as an equal to his Lady.

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But I am not. I am musing in a most cretinous manner. I am spattering my uncultured, obtuse thoughts on a topic so well-loved and so well-researched, that frankly I am a little ashamed of myself.

However I cannot help sometimes wondering at our tendency to analyse plays written hundreds of years ago, in a language very few of us understand, with references to a culture and a society not a living soul on earth remembers.

What are we gaining from this?

In my copy of The Duchess of Malfi, almost every line has an explanation on the adjacent page, because the majority of people of my ilk will know nothing about the meanings or the cultural references behind the speech. I know it is good to learn new things, but really, we are just learning old ones.

It’s like studying a lesson in physics from a book written five hundred years ago. The concepts are outdated, new ones with more plausible evidence have replaced them.

But language is not a science, and in order to understand language, we must revert back to the origins of language and literature and entertainment. It is a burden to be borne, I suppose.

Webster’s Malfi is quite entertaining and odd, though. It’s garish and discomfiting, but it is proving to be surprisingly enjoyable. The language is immensely satisfying, and there are plenty of little linguistic gems to please. There is no denying that Webster made a true art of words.

How about you, dear reader? Have you read many seventeenth century plays? Did you enjoy them?

Aphra Behn and Books Galore

Aphra Behn is proving to be very difficult to get into. I am running around tidying up and dusting this little attic room that is our home until the end of the month because there is a viewing here today, and listening to Mindy Kaling’s ‘Why Not Me?’ which I am thoroughly enjoying, by the way.

It is hilarious and interesting and I feel like Mindy is like an older sister giving me sensible advice for the current times, which is something Aphra Behn cannot do.

Can Aphra Behn tell me that confidence is the result of hard work? Can Aphra Behn tell me that it is ok to hate my fat? Can Aphra Behn give me some glamorous Hollywood ‘look-great’ secrets, and give me little snippets of her love life while she is at it?

Well I don’t know, since I have not read Aphra Behn yet.

The introduction tells me she has a very high opinion of her own writing, and it seems rather less dramatic and detailed than Shakespeare, which is a good thing, considering that although old Shakey (as Will from Goodnight Mister Tom whispered happily to himself –he certainly enjoyed Shakespeare) is still critically acclaimed more than four hundred years after his death, I find his sonnets and plays ‘tragically’ boring and cannot get into them at all.

Does this make me a literary fraud?

If it makes you feel any better, I love Coolidge and Montgomery (that’s Lucy Maud) and Alcott and all the Bronte’s and Austen and Dickens and Mitchell (that’s Margaret) and Stevenson and Shelley (Mary, not Percy) and even Hawthorne and Wilde and Elliot and my goodness Thackeray! And loads more, of course. I have a penchant for old novels, especially old romance novels, and their language does not faze me in the slightest. In fact it is the reason that I love them so! I detest the frank crudeness of modern day romance, the illicit sex scenes, the ridiculous Hollywood ‘glitches’ etc etc but I understand why people relish them.

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To me Austen’s romance novels are perfect because they combine beautiful language, eloquent speeches and respectful romance. I want to be courted, I want to go for long walks with Mr Darcy, I don’t want some guy to come along and woo me with a ridiculous pick-up line reeking of sexual innuendo.

On one of our first dates, my husband put my hand through his arm on an icy wintry evening and we walked down the road towards my house. We lingered outside for the longest time, talking about everything, and then he looked at me and said, “I don’t want to stop talking to you just yet, let’s go around the block one more time”

We ended up walking for another hour, and I don’t remember what we talked about but I remember feeling gloriously full of giddy delight because of how gentlemanly he was.

He didn’t kiss me either. He smiled at me with his heart-dropping dimples and that was it. Then he sent me a text before I went to bed telling me he thought my smile was the most beautiful thing about my face.

It’s cheesy I know but this is what I love about romance. Mr Darcy professing his love for Elizabeth, and writing her a beautiful letter full of respect and gallantry. Mr Bhaer (YES, I WANTED LAURIE FOR JO TOO, BUT MR BHAER WON ME OVER BY HIS SHEER CHIVALRY AND GENTLEMANLINESS) wooing Jo, the way Ned Worthington could not focus on his work, aaand my personal favourite; Anne and Gilbert’s beautiful, blossoming, almost soap-opera like romance filled with wondrous magic, flowery language and Anne’s own fantastic mind. Aaaagh! I cannot say how many times I have read Anne and its sequels. Emily and her sequels. Pat and hers. Countless more! Lucy Maud Montgomery was the echoing voice of my childhood years. I based my dream home on Green Gables (still do), am constantly looking for a Violet Vale, and see every birch tree as a beautiful, slender lady to be hugged and loved. I felt like a little Anne, chattering non stop, getting excited about the little weed I found outside our rented flat in the dusty desert that is Dubai. Every summer when we returned to England and went to forests and walked through the countryside and went berry picking I imagined I was on Prince Edward Island and my goodness, was that a dryad peeking mischievously around a tree? Secretly, I dreamed of a bookish Gilbert Blythe who would whisk me away to Lover’s Lane and and and… I LOVE Lucy Maud Montgomery. She made me see the joy in the bleak desert, the light in the dark sky, the kindness in the world. Whenever I felt sad my mind would create happiness in the form of stories, I would create characters based on Anne and Katy and they would do lovely things and bake delicious cakes and live in the countryside.

They always lived in the countryside.

And now I do, and it really finally feels like all my dreams have come true except I am moving to the city again soon and trying to spend all my time outside in the fields and relishing the cold wind and lashing rain because out in the countryside, somehow, it is magical and glorious.

But Shakespeare… don’t get angry, but  when people tell me they love Shakespeare I am judgy because they sound a little pretentious to me.

Juuuust a little.

I KNOW. I am an awful human being.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I can see why people would enjoy it. Hell, when I am working on it, deeply analysing each line, I love it! The words, the flow, the excellent combination of wit and skill in language, what’s not to love? And how it all translated onto the stage, how every detail matters, sitting, standing, facing this way or that… it’s incredible!

That being said, however, I just do not see myself sitting down after a long day of hard work and opening a Shakespeare play. Anne of Green Gables, yes, but not Shakespeare.

Well, I guess it is time to stop procrastinating about Behn and actually get into Behn. Who knows, I might just love her the same way I love Lucy Maud Montgomery and her flowery Anne.