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  #1  
Unread 04-11-2024, 08:27 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Default Excerpts from Obscurity

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Excerpts from Obscurity

“Always be a poet, even in prose.” —Baudelaire


Sometimes I take something I’ve written and, just for the fun of it, reduce the font size down to impossibly small print. It looks different. Strangely beautiful. Then I imagine all the world’s writings — every single syllable of everything that has ever been written down in books, journals, diaries, letters, napkins, wrappers, scratched on ancient walls; everything worth saving that has ever been written by human beings — and reducing them to fit on a single page. It looks like dust.


------------------

This morning I came across a collection of thirty-nine quotes by famous writers on writing; nearly all of them dead. I am sure I've run across all of them individually before, but never as a collection. The effect of reading them together felt like what I imagine a spa treatment must feel like for someone who is looking to be physically pampered and rejuvenated by touch and smell and sound. It is a fleeting interlude of time. Rilke, with whom I identify most closely, was there. So was Kafka, who I’m always surprised to discover is a kindred spirit. I had the thought that I was walking through a graveyard reading headstones. Every one of the buried had been successful and everyone of them knew what it took to accomplish good writing. There were no gravestone quotes from writers like me who had gone nowhere with their writing and yet I could say unequivocally that each quote I read spoke of my own experience as an unknown, obscure writer. It was surreally spa-like to be reminded that we share the same insistent, burning need to write. We legion of writers, great and obscure. I like a good massage from time to time, but it never lasts long enough nor happens frequently enough to be anything more than a blip in time of pleasure that costs more than I can afford. It’s like splurging on an expensive restaurant just to experience fine dining and then being forced by my wallet to get the cheapest thing on the menu. In Thailand massages were cheap and good. You can get a foot massage for next to nothing. There are opportunities for every kind of massage on every street in Bangkok. I am, of course talking of legitimate massages. They also have a sumptuous flower market where big bunches of flowers are sold for pennies. But I digress. Each quote pierced me. I had the sensation of being pricked alive and salved in the oils of my own identity and ever so briefly realizing I am all of what they say a writer is and more. And more. It will wear off, I’m sure. It was just a massage.

------------------

I don’t believe I’m a mediocre writer — even though there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary. I believe I’m a great writer living in the wrong brain. I preside over a kind of uneasy alliance between the writer in me and the brain in me. I’ve made the best of it. It will have to do until I get a new one. (Brain, that is. My imagination is perfect.) Under the present circumstances the most I can hope for is to smuggle something out without my brain recognizing it. The greatness within me seeps out from time to time. I have evidence of it, though I’ve misplaced it or lost it or it has receded back into my imagination. If I were able to look back at my life frame by frame, evidence of my greatness would be there. I'm sure of it. It is an unforgettable sensation. Like sparks that flared but failed to ignite a larger fire due to the smothering blanket of my brain.

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If you were reading my words between the covers of a book would they be different? Would they be if you discovered them in a letter tucked inside a used book you bought, say, on the embankment shops along the Seine in Paris? I don't know if Frost read Dante. I have tried to read Dante. If he did I don't see it in his writing. Perhaps I haven't read enough Frost. All I see is an earth-bound man who found a way to climb birch trees and ride its branches down to the ground. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Dante did, too. Back in Gutenberg's time, upon hearing the good news that the printing press had been invented, how many writers clamored to be published? How many stayed up nights dreaming of sharing their imaginations with the world?

------------------

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Last edited by Jim Moonan; 04-13-2024 at 06:28 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 04-12-2024, 05:58 PM
Glenn Wright Glenn Wright is online now
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I enjoyed reading these musings on literary achievement, Jim..
In the first paragraph, I was at first jarred by the shift from spa to graveyard and back to spa, but I suspect that this was deliberate. Acclaim is very soothing—dangerously so to anyone wanting to master the craft of writing. In your brief excursion to the graveyard, I imagined the edges of the cemetery lined with skeletons of those writers whose work did not merit dignified burial and laudatory epitaphs. In returning to the spa, you almost drift away into a reverie about Thailand until you pull yourself back with, “But I digress.”
The last paragraph made me think seriously about how important context can be to our appreciation of good writing, even though it shouldn’t be. Something that we read that we found quoted by a Nobel Prize winner certainly can’t help but carry a gloss of excellence that it might not have if he same piece of writing were turned in to us as an eleventh grade essay. Things we read because they were recommended to us by people whose judgment we respect have an unfair advantage in being evaluated that, ideally, they should not have. Conversely, we are affected as writers by the things we read. Is it wise to protect yourself from contamination by inferior writers, only reading those things that come with sterling recommendations? Or should we, as Milton says in “Areopagitica,” read “promiscuously?”

Last edited by Glenn Wright; 04-13-2024 at 01:06 AM.
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  #3  
Unread 04-13-2024, 08:26 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Hi Glenn, I think the Anchorage air suits you. Your comments are as crisp and lucid as the outdoors. I was there a few years ago and hope to go back sometime. We didn’t see nearly enough. I read a lot of John Muir while I was there. He and Thoreau are favorites of mine.

It is heartening to hear your comments. They are without exception what I had hoped the piece would evoke. Candor is my guiding principle when I write. I tried to say exactly what I was thinking at the time. It was morning and there was coffee involved and I was being buffeted by similar thoughts that were competing for my attention and managed to collect them and loosely weave them into what felt like excerpts vs. completed prose. Obscurity is my domain : )

Many thanks for entering this "blackhole" board that seems to go unnoticed. Have you read the piece at the bottom of the queue by Mignon Ledgard titled, “Not a Poem”? I have been remiss not to comment on it and plan to do so today. It’s exceptional.

Thanks again for coming here to the Fiction Board. I won’t tell anyone you were here, promise. (joking, of course). I like it here.
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  #4  
Unread 04-20-2024, 10:58 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Jim,

This is an interesting idea, I think. #1 and #4 work best for me. I don't know that I'm up to critiquing all four, so I'll offer some specific comments on your first, and some general comments on the rest.

Sometimes I take something I’ve written and, just for the fun of it, reduce the font size down to impossibly small print. It looks different. Strangely beautiful. Then I imagine all the world’s writings — every single syllable of anything that has ever been written down in books, journals, diaries, letters, napkins, wrappers, and scratched on ancient walls; everything worth saving that has ever been written by a human being — and reducing them to fit on a single page. It looks like dust.

So #1:

Maybe lose "just for the fun of it". Let us guess why. Leave it open.

Maybe lose "single" before "syllable". It's redundant.

Do you need "print" after small. Is font size made small, or is it made "small print"?

I'd go with, "in books, journals, diaries, letters, on napkins, wrappers, or scratched on ancient walls". Since we don't usually say that people write "in" napkins and wrappers.

"everything worth saving ..." seems to somewhat contradict "every single syllable that has been written down ...". And "that has ever been written by a human being" seems to just restates what's gone before. What do you lose if you cut that phase, "everything worth" through "human being"?

So, some general comments on the rest.

I reckon all of these can be made more concise. Which words can go? Which modifiers and qualifying phrases are unnecessary? For example, in #3, is it "a kind of" uneasy alliance, or it is an "uneasy alliance"? If "uneasy alliance" doesn't describe it accurately, what does? In #2 you tells us massages are "cheap and good" and that we can get one for next to nothing and that we can get all kinds of massages. I reckon this could easily be said with fewer words. And so on.

Watch out for stock phrases and metaphors: "kindred spirit", "a mountain of evidence".

in #2, what does it tell us that the N identifies most closely with Rilke or that Kafka is a kindred spirit. Why does he identify with Rilke? What about him makes him a kindred spirit with Kafka? We don't really get to learn, and these comments don't seem to be developed. What do you lose if you cut the two sentences mentioning Rilke and Kafka?

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 04-20-2024 at 02:28 PM.
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  #5  
Unread 04-20-2024, 02:00 PM
Glenn Wright Glenn Wright is online now
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BTW, I think Frost read Dante. His poem, “Acquainted with the Night” is written in terza rima, just like The Divine Comedy.
Also, when it comes to poetry, your heart is much more important than your brain. The brain is a useful tool for making calculated judgments, something that can be accomplished by sharing your writing with other people and using your heart to consider the wisdom of their observations. The heart is where you are alone with yourself and maybe God if you are a believer. That is where poems are born. It is ultimately the only thing that we will be judged by.

Last edited by Glenn Wright; 04-20-2024 at 02:10 PM.
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  #6  
Unread 04-21-2024, 08:46 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glenn Wright View Post
Also, when it comes to poetry, your heart is much more important than your brain. The brain is a useful tool for making calculated judgments, something that can be accomplished by sharing your writing with other people and using your heart to consider the wisdom of their observations. The heart is where you are alone with yourself and maybe God if you are a believer. That is where poems are born. It is ultimately the only thing that we will be judged by.
Thanks for this reminder. You've struck at the heart of the art that is poetry. In a less direct way, I am trying to say the same thing in these "excerpts", all the while dousing it in self-doubt. Self-doubt its my antidote to arrogance : )
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  #7  
Unread 04-25-2024, 09:26 AM
mignon ledgard mignon ledgard is offline
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Default Jim's Excerpts from Obscurity

Jim,

I love your first part! I wish I could paint it.. And only now, I like “Always be a poet, even in prose.” —Baudelaire ------ Only a few days ago, my grandson and I were talking about this. He cannot shed the poet in him and how lucky he is -- how dare anyone suggest that he should.

I've been 'out of order,' like some public utilitarian object. I'm stopping to thank you for your encouragement, before I continue hopping to find another one of your posts.

That's all for the moment,
~mignon
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  #8  
Unread 04-25-2024, 08:52 PM
mignon ledgard mignon ledgard is offline
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Jim,

I am back to let you know I am 'working' on comments to your post. The wonderful problem I am having is that I am being abducted by each of the many hints of very many 'other' stories or poems that jump out to lure me, and I wonder how aware of this you may or may not be.

You are percolating!
~mignon

Last edited by mignon ledgard; 04-25-2024 at 08:54 PM. Reason: an only contraction begged to be eliminated
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  #9  
Unread 04-28-2024, 05:14 AM
mignon ledgard mignon ledgard is offline
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Default Jim's Excerpts part 2

Jim,

I am reading the second part of the excerpts and I include suggestions, in order from top to bottom.

Second sentence:
“I am sure” could be dropped.

Third sentence:
Start with “Reading them together is like being at a spa waiting to be physically pampered and rejuvenated by touch, smell, and sound.”

Fourth sentence:
I know you are referring to the effect and the spa, but I think it is a thought that includes and transcends that setting and moment, therefore an opportunity to elevate it to ‘Time is a fleeting interlude’, (I haven’t checked if it’s been pegged by someone.)

Fifth and Sixth sentences:
At first, it seems you are referring to the many authors in the same list, but I think it a great idea to have Rilke and Kafka at a spa—a sprouting poem?
(These two authors are among my favorites, too!) It would be an engaging conversation between them - ha.)

Seventh Sentence:
Here, I reach a stumbling block of sorts because I am enamored with the idea of a reunion of favorites having an amazing conversation. I suppose the thoughts of a graveyard could fit in, if the N were an invisible snooper or a ghost, but it is abrupt and, yes, I see the story is about the N, and it still would be, but - SIGH.. This is brilliant.

I think Matt is right about tightening up, but be careful not to make it lose the mood’s flavor, not to take away vitality.

Even a stream of consciousness, which I love, needs to be revised, methinks. This is why you posted, but I’m feeling like a mean Catholic nun flicking a ruler against a desk. Ay ay ay..

Somewhere, you mention your candor. It comes through and I'm glad you didn't lose it. Guard it during the cropping.

~mignon

Addendum: the mention of a graveyard right after the spa seems like an anti-climax. This is where I will start reading it again.

Addendum 2:

I think I’m only now catching on. First, the N tells of being “an obscure writer.” Then, I realize the first mention of a spa is a mum introduction to the story that takes place in Thailand. At this point, I come to see how the long attempts trying to suggest ways to make it smoother for the reader would go against the obscurity. It’s been a “surreal” trip and it’s time to recuse myself.

Wow, Jim, a marathon runaround!
~m

Last edited by mignon ledgard; 04-29-2024 at 02:07 AM. Reason: addendum to the addendum
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  #10  
Unread 04-29-2024, 02:08 AM
mignon ledgard mignon ledgard is offline
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Note: I have added a second addendum to my previous post.
Thanks,
~m
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