Tag Archives: weather

No Life but in Things

Because You Have To            Two lines from two famous poets come back to me whenever I think about the life of objects in writing.

One is the brilliant, beloved Richard Wilbur’s Love calls us to the things of this world, from the poem of the same title, a gorgeous meditation on the difficult (but desirable) balance between concerns of the physical and the spiritual in the human heart. The other, from the equally brilliant, beloved William Carlos Williams, is the phrase No ideas but in things, which was, as I understand it, a kind of rebuking manifesto to other poets of his time (quoting online analysis here), urging “simplicity of language” and the “precise placing of each visual element [as] an argument for clear sight in poetry, stripped of conventional symbolism.”

Those two lines re-awaken me, by dint of their beauty, simplicity, and joy, to the artistic fertility of objects, places, weather—all the physical incarnations of life on earth, including the inanimate—in writing. The way written things can embody what a writer strives to convey, relieves that writer of the deadening effort to spell it out conventionally; to tell instead of show.

This is why I exhort myself, in the raw hours of making new work, to pay ravenous attention to the physical world of my stories, to rove my  imagination’s eye around the street or room, and (like a Ouija board’s token) see where it alights—more accurately, what it alights upon. Curtains, walls, chairs, paintings, photos, trinkets, laundry, beds, food, flooring, light through windowglass—a wealth manifests before the mind’s eye’s slow-panning camera.

The writer’s job is to transcribe what she sees as fast and capably as she can.

Somehow in the very mundane-ness of those objects, qualities, and surroundings, dwells a kind of gold: what playwrights sometimes call the reflector, or (more simply and usually) concrete details. They help the story tell itself. Their effects carry the story into the reader’s body—because the reader’s body recognizes the things of this world, and gladly (in Sven Birkerts’ words) “bustles about” furnishing its vision of the story with those items. And once inside, like a Trojan horse emptying itself of secret soldiers, the inanimate thing releases its cargo of emotion: sadness, jubilation, bewilderment. A writer learns to trust her instinct to deeply (if selectively) involve the life of objects in her storytelling. Magically, she is made larger for it, right along with the reader.

Because You Have ToJoan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Lifejust nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.

Site: http://www.joanfrank.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joan.frank.9?fref=ts

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Filed under Inspirational, Joan Frank, Writing & Editing

Never-ending Weather

Because You Have ToAll writers have heard that there are only finally two stories: someone goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town. (I’m never quite easy in my heart about this statement; it seems to reduce so much to so little.)

But I might add that to my thinking, in terms of human discourse, there are only finally two subjects—granted, five if you insist on counting love, sex and death—place, and weather. And it seems obvious that both carry over to writing constantly.

Evidence is endless. Here’s a personal example: One of the biggest aggravations for me about visiting my husband’s home turf—the north of England, where they suffer some of the worst weather anywhere—is that weather is all people talk about.

Never mind that it’s a nonstop nightmare. Northerners talk about it every hour of every day as if it might change.

They reckon, assess, parse, hazard, and judge; they speculate, equivocate, revise, and review exactly what is happening at the moment (cold, ugly rain), what happened yesterday (cold, ugly rain), what may happen in the next hour, week, month, or year (yes).

At first I found this reality poignant in the extreme. I thought it fascinating that northerners owned a vocabulary for rain tantamount to that of words for snow in Eskimo culture. (It’s “sheeting it down,”  “throwing it down,” “hammering,” “pissing,” “spitting,” “stair rods,” etc.)

But after awhile I understood that by doing this, Northern people were telling themselves a story to keep from committing suicide or murdering one another: This might change. Year round it almost never stops raining there, and the rain is cold and sticky and seeps into bones and clothing and walls and furniture and food.

Sometimes there’s snow instead of rain.

If all one can do is hope for better, then one passes time reconfiguring, shuffling the (largely imaginary) deck. “Oh, it’s comin’ brighter now,” they’ll say to each other, looking out the window in a tone of anxious hopefulness.

Writing needs to use this stuff for all it is worth.

We’re animals: regulated by light, dark, heat, cold. To write from the body means using place and weather as building-block elements of what it feels like to dwell inside the human form.

It makes the work dimensional and alive.

Next up: place.

Because You Have ToJoan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Lifejust nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.

Site: http://www.joanfrank.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joan.frank.9?fref=ts

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Filed under Joan Frank, Writing & Editing