I just put on an enormous pot of venison chili.
There’s celery in there. Onions, beans, green peppers, red vinegar, cumin, and garlic. I just walked by and impulsively dumped in a cup of black coffee I was holding. It was a Tennessee Titans mug, baby blue. It’s amazing, how it smells, the whole house, this chili. The odor of life, of beginnings, laughing and staggering home drunk, family-style crinkly menus of hope, like all the old ingredients of my pantry have been swept away, aside, and replaced by a new meal, fortification, sustenance and a sense of potential health. A glow of blooming nasturtiums in winter. A mix of somethings. Whiskey drinkers with bullhorns.
Cooking is better than writing. You consume the art you created.
But I digress.
Diagram has a new issue out, with ARLENE ANG! I keep trying to tell you people…
I saw Arlene once in Vancouver and she saved a seal from an old lady!
We discussed characters in my Fiction One class today. I always begin this lecture by showing two photos:
And this one:
After that, the conversation is self-explanatory.
We talked about Direct Characterization:
I am a nervous neat freak. I am possibly OCD and overcritical.
Versus Indirect Characterization:
(From Ray Midge’s, The Dog of the South.)”I ordered a glass of beer and arranged my coins before me on the bar in columns according to value. When the beer came, I dipped a finger in it and wet down each corner of the paper napkin to anchor it, so it would not come up with the mug each time and make me appear ridiculous. I drank from the side of the mug that a left-handed person would use, in the belief that fewer mouths had been on that side.
The rest of the lesson I led my students through the fundamentals of characterization in fiction:
1.) Dress your characters in all purple. All purple, everything, head to toe.
2.) Have them hold a pipe, a blanket. A baby food jar. Or dress them in all purple.
3.) Flannery O’Connor made little outfits for her chickens. Little vests and top hats. Then one day someone said, “Why don’t you just get peacocks?” She got hundreds of peacocks. She was famous for these peacocks.
After her death, the birds were moved to a monastery and a cancer ward and some lady’s farm in Ohio.
4.) I told my class that this life is not dress rehearsal, and that creating a character who keeps using psychedelics is OK, as long as you have a purpose in the story. Like Raymond Carver had all his characters drunk. Why? So their impulse control would drop, thus allowing awkward truth and hitting on wives and I like that story where the black horses appear in the fog, the living room, I think.
I’m scared of horses. Their heads are shaped like caskets.
(I have a memory like a bamboo grove.)
5.) I told them to go downhill skiing. In Colorado, right above the Boar’s Back. Start at Copper Mountain and work your way west. Stop at the casinos and get thrown out of all of them. Then downhill ski for two months. The definition of “fun” is when you are finally not watching yourself, analyzing yourself. If you stop to ask if you are having fun while hurtling down a black diamond at Breckenridge, you will die.
Fun is when you CAN NOT examine your activity while doing the activity. This explains the popularity of extreme sports, and sleep.
6.) I’ve yet to see a squirrel display self pity.
7.) I told my student to read a story. They did, mostly, I think. Story was about a grandmother who was a narcissistic, self righteous, selfish, oblivious, lying crone. So then a man shot her family (she led her family to the man). And then the grandmother three times in the forehead. The end.
The truth will out.
In the Old Testament, if you screw up, you die.
Ever heard of the “Hard Teachings”? No one really wants to turn the other cheek, and give away their possessions, and act all meek. Show me a meek man. Someone striving to be meek.
One time this dude walked up to Jesus and said, “Hey man. What do I need to do to get to heaven?” (A good question–I mean if you have a few moments with a deity)
Jesus pauses, places a hand on the man’s shoulder, smiles, and says, “Sell all your belongings.”
(Matthew 19:21: “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me”)
Boy, you know that guy thought: FUCK THAT!
Jesus called the Pharisees proudly praying on the corner “urns.” That was wicked. Jesus could drop a metaphor on your ass. An urn is shiny and glowing on the outside. Inside, it’s dead, cold ashes.
I prefer the Gnostic Texts, where Jesus kicks people’s asses, and not just with words. He strikes one dude blind. Wowzers. That’s not just throwing over some card tables in the church.
Lots of people talking. But walking it?
All the above is about this.
8.) I told one student he wrote an excellent line about losers. A character was trying to convince another he was king of losers, a real peach at losing. He compared the person to the Cubs. Then to Buzz Aldrin. Then this…The line was, roughly, “You’re like Amy Winehouse.”
Poor Amy Winehouse. Her nose is now apparently falling off. I can’t imagine why.
9.) Lastly, I told the class to go stalk someone and write down everything they do and say. Then take this character and put them in a story with a dead cat and a slammed door.
I think that pretty much does it for characterization. That’s the basics, I feel.
My house smells like a manifesto right now.
I am using a chart I found on Diagram to write about Regis Philbin. I pretended Regis died. Then I thought: How would my narrator react? Here is the chart:
So I wrote a section for each pyramid. I would include an excerpt here but I don’t feel like including an excerpt and this is my damn blog.
Every single section above has a corresponding text in the story.
Ok, I will include an excerpt:
All the busy signals of my life forming a wound. A laceration in my heart, alongside rib bone, possibly leaking blue. Possibly arterial, thrusting. One less sparkling studio of gloom and doom. One less coruscating necktie. One less opportunity to become, with relatively little effort, a millionaire.
I like this J.A. Tyler work over at Sub-Lit.
It made me remember how I was invented, touched. I worked in a warehouse once. I pushed buttons once. I could show you repaired drywall and a martini the size of purgation.
Also I like Molly Jones’s Heart Mechanics at Thieves Jargon.
Very wicked, Molly.
It reminded me of a patient at the hospital. He had an artificial heart. You want to know the most profoundly weird thing about waking up from surgery with an artificial heart?
You no longer pulse. No beats in your chest, your hollow.