Saturday, June 11, 2011

On Writing and Giant Moths

Tony Noland tagged me with the meme.... WAIT. What the heck is a "meme," anyway.
*off to the dictionary*
The definition I just found made little to no sense... something about "an element of a culture or system of behaviour that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially by imitation." OK, it makes a little sense. I was just about to use the word meme without even knowing what it meant. Sometimes I do that because I don't want folks to know my ignorant backswoody nature. At the many cocktail parties I never attend I can be found standing there, wide-eyed, nodding enthusiastically. Not. A. Clue.
So this "meme" is writing and what it means to me. I'm supposed to pontificate and then tag four other people to share their thoughts on writing. For me, this couldn't come at a more or less opportune time.
Writing is the bane of my existence.
I'm teeter-tottering between wanting to write a novel and wanting to just absolutely forget about it. Some days I think, hey, this is pretty good. Some days I think, I SUCK and what the heck was I thinking? I'm in the midst of reading Alice Munro's book, The Beggar Maid, and that's real writing. She is a master. She writes with seeming ease; but the simplicity in her work is deceiving. The character development is intricate and dazzling. During one section of the book I cried, I laughed, I held my breath; I finished, exhausted.
In this section, Rose, the daughter, has done something to anger her stepmother, Flo, and Flo has called in the father to deliver punishment. The deliberate way Munro works through the process of the father's developing anger is chilling.
Rose detects in her father some objections to Flo's rhetoric, some embarrassment and reluctance. She is wrong, and ought to know she is wrong, in thinking that she can count on this. The fact that she knows about it, and he knows she knows, will not make things any better. He is beginning to warm up. He gives her a look. This look is at first cold and challenging. It informs her of his judgment, of the hopelessness of her position. Then it clears, it begins to fill up with something else, the way a spring fills up when you clear the leaves away. It fills with hatred and pleasure. Rose sees that and knows it. Is that just a description of anger, should she see his eyes filling up with anger? No. Hatred is right. Pleasure is right. His face loosens and changes and grows younger, and he holds up his hand this time to silence Flo.
"All right," he says, meaning that's enough, more than enough, this part is over, things can proceed. He starts to loosen his belt.
And then, as the beating, the "royal beating" begins, even the most familiar objects in the kitchen turn their backs on Rose.
She tries again looking at the kitchen floor, that clever and comforting geometrical arrangement, instead of looking at him or his belt. How can this go on in front of such daily witnesses – the linoleum, the calendar with the mill and creek and autumn trees, the old accommodating pots and pans?
Hold out your hand!
Those things aren't going to help her, none of them can rescue her. They turn bland and useless, even unfriendly. Pots can show malice, the patterns of linoleum can leer up at you, treachery is the other side of dailiness.
Oh, to write like that. The depth – amazing. I feel like such a pretender. If you've never read Alice Munro, one of the biggest stars of Canadian fiction, you must go now... now... what are you doing still standing there ... and find one of her books.
I'm not writing this down to elicit encouraging comments ... that's just how I feel.
The other thing about writing is its loneliness. I'm such a social critter that I find it hard to sit my butt down in the chair, all by myself, and just write. Once I start, I'm usually good. It's the starting that I find difficult.
One more thing about the project I'm working on – sometimes I do not like what I'm doing. Everyone always talks about loving their characters and while I do like them, most of the time, sometimes they bore the pants off me. I feel like saying, can't you just write yourself? Why do you need me? What a pain in the butt you are... In journalism, if a story is boring you, it's time to stop. Is this the same with novel writing? I don't know because I've never done it before. Does 'bored' mean the subject matter is terrible? Because, if it bores the writer, surely it will bore everyone else. Or do I just have a short attention span and everything bores me after five minutes?
Maybe a blog isn't enough. Maybe I need a shrink.
So that's what writing is to me right now: the bane of my existence. Tomorrow it will be my salvation, my obsession, my light.
Speaking of light (notice the segue), we have had some exotic visitors to our Light of Death. That's what we call our electric bug zapper, which emits sleazy ultraviolet light that all bugs are drawn to like sailors at a tart convention. I'm not a big fan of the zapper, by the way, because it kills all bugs, not just mosquitoes.
Fortunately for these two beauties, they are too large to enter the sacred portals of the Light of Death, so their lives were spared. (Double-click on the photos for biggie-size big moths.)

The big green one is called a Luna Moth; the brown one is Atheraea polyphemus, or brown one, for short. Obviously the brown moth doesn't inspire people as much as the green one because nobody gave it a cute name. I'm going to call him Frank.
Oh, and I almost forgot. The four people I want to tag with the "how I feel about writing" meme are:

Notice they are all "L-women." (In alphabetical order, no less.) Notice they are all talented writers.
I think the key to writing must be changing my name...


  1. Chain up that self talking woman in your head. Evict her and never let her back in. Replace her with a marquis that flashes "you are amazing" 24 hours a day. You'll feel much better about everything.

  2. Haha! The L women...
    You are an excellent writer, Cathy. You already know that, deep in your heart. If your characters bore you though, you should ditch them or rework them in some way to make them engaging to you. Otherwise, you won't care enough about them to write their story.
    You are so full of wit and whim - why don't you just follow your natural talent into novel form? Sort of a Northwoods Erma Bombeck?

  3. Thanks guys.
    Writing is such a fickle experience with me. Just now I sat down and wrote nearly 400 words on my novel and they didn't bore me at all.
    Go figure.

  4. Beautifully done, Cathy. You have a marvelous depth when you cut loose like this. I'm glad I tagged you.

  5. The luna moth is gorgeous.

    What about the idea of a series of related shorts? -Either short stories about the same person or persons in a particular town, or an A to Z series of short-short character sketches? (that's if your novel is stalled or boring you) I think you would excel at this.

  6. Oh gurl, you just have to give yourself a break. Give yourself some time. Give yourself a pat on the back. Be good to yourself. You don't need to write like anyone else, you need to write like Cathy - that's who I want to read.

  7. Cathy, I love to read you! However, I know how you feel about sitting down to write--there are days I just walk by my computer and look down in shame muttering, "Not today buddy..." It's all part of the journey!! And I'm with Lou on this one--write like you, that's who we want to read!!!

  8. Cathy you might not be "what'shernamewhosebooki'mgettingsoonest" but boy your writing is entertaining. It would be a thrill to meet you. And yes, she has the most amazing way with words, she reminds me of Toni Morrison. Such depth found in the most common "inconsequential" things.

  9. I'm still not sure I know what a meme is but I know that feeling, when you read something astonishing and wonder, "Just who the hell do I think I am?"

  10. I understand your conflicted feelings about writing, but I hope you keep writing. I enjoy reading what you write.

  11. One of the things I appreciate so much about you, Cathy is how real you are. This spills over in your words. I personally would love to read a longer fictional piece of yours. The work you chose to share with us is amazing writing, and I think its really showing your heart to show others who you aspire to be. We all have writing heroes. A couple years a go I felt just like you and I just decided to plunge in and do it. Never regretted it. And I do have a couple novel starts sitting in a file that never went anywhere because I didn't feel it anymore. And that's ok. We have to give ourselves to the stories that speak the loudest. In the end its about what you want and how much you feel you can let yourself go. xx

  12. I think you could easily write the Great Canadian Novel. You have such a way of spinning your stories, you really make them come alive. Your characters are second to none. Just yesterday I was remembering your story about the man in the bakery. Oh, how I loved that story.

  13. Aspiring to the levels of Alice Munro is a good thing, Cathy, but hating your own work isn't. Just tinker with it. If an element is broken, fix it. If an element works, later you can refine it and make it work better. That's how Munro got good enough to make you cry.

  14. I think you were just having an off day. It happens. Because your writing could charm the rattlers off a rattlesnake. I love your wit. I read a post last year where the writer said she sometimes slaps her characters around so they won't fall asleep on her.

  15. Hey girlfriend, you must tell your inner critic to take a hike -- you ARE a great writer, honest and humorous. That said, you pretty much wrote the way I often feel about writing. My hunch is that most writers feel this conflict, and the ones who don't are prolly not too good because without self-doubt we would not strive for our best. And love those luna moths -- beautiful! Peace...


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