Novel-In-Progress: Hard Pruning

Self has cut so much from her novel-in-progress, Blue Water, Distant Shores, it’s now just 314 pages.

The parts that stay, that made it through three drafts, will be part of the end manuscript now. For sure.

Such as this passage:

The new Gubernador-General announced his intention to establish a system of garrisons ringing the southern Philippine kingdoms of Maranao and Sulu, to contain the Moslem threat. Everyone knew this was idle talk. Spain could not send more soldiers. As the situation stood, she could barely hang on to her prize, the Most Holy City of Manila.

Matias’s watchtower preceded the Church. The site he found was a narrow spit of land that followed the Bago River from its mouth to the Guimaras Strait, which united the Visayan and Sulu Sea.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Re-Visiting Peter Matthiessen’s THE SNOW LEOPARD

Varanasi at the end of the rainy season, 28 September 1973:

Brown eyes observe us as we pass. Confronted by the pain of Asia, one cannot look and cannot turn away. In India, human misery seems so pervasive that one takes in only stray details; a warped leg or a dead eye, a sick pariah dog eating withered grass, an ancient woman lifting her sari to move her shrunken bowels by the road. Yet in Varanasi there is hope of life that has been abandoned in such cities as Calcutta, which seems resigned to the dead and dying in its gutters. Shiva dances in the spicy foods, in the exhilarated bells of the swarming bicycles, the angry bus horns, the chatter of the temple monkeys, the vermilion tikka dot on the women’s foreheads, even in the scent of charred human flesh that pervades the ghats. The people smile — that is the greatest miracle of all.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Stonehenge/Pacifica

In 2014, self went to see Stonehenge.

She signed up for a small-group tour, the only one allowed on the site towards sunset. All the big tour buses had left. The guide, a retired military officer, led the group across a sheep meadow.

This is unquestionably the best approach. It allows the view to unfold gradually. You are reminded that this was how people, in time immemorial, must have approached the monument: in procession. Self could hardly contain her excitement at her first glimpse of the pillars of stone.

The mystery of the site has stayed with her. The fact that no human habitations were ever built around it. What was it used for?

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From this vantage point, we could clearly see the jagged outline of the stones, just above the rise.

Well before she saw Stonehenge, she’d written about it in a piece called Stonehenge/Pacifica, published in Wigleaf, 2012.

It was a dream I had, some restless night. One of those weeks or months or years when we were worried about money.

But when were we ever not worried?

First there was the mortgage, and then the two.

And then your mother got sick, and your father died.

And my mother I think developed Alzheimer’s, but we never mentioned it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

More From Self’s “Residents of the Deep”

Self’s story is set in some unknown century. The explorer who is the MC is something like Captain Cook (Oceania! What a fantastic exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts!):

  • From the lack of authentic records, ascending into remote antiquity, the origin of most very ancient cities is involved in obscurity. Who would have supposed that a very old civilization existed on the ocean floor, one that had escaped the notice of man for centuries, equaling — nay, in some cases exceeding — the grandeur of ancient Rome.

In self’s story, the Residents of the Deep accomplish all their daily tasks in one-quarter time. That is, they appear human, but their behavior is just a little “off.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Work-in-Progress: “Residents of the Deep”

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Map of Oceania

Self began this story on her very first visit to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig and has added to it, bit by bit, over the years. She was in Unit # 4 and there was an old maritime book in one of the cupboards.

She doesn’t worry about finishing this story. It will always be “in progress” — it will always exist in middle time, like her visits to this part of Ireland and beautiful Annaghmakerrig.

Here are the opening sentences:

There is something singularly impressive and affecting to the imagination when, in a perfectly calm tropical sea, under a vertical sun, one is able to look down through a depth of thousands of fathoms of clear water and see on the ocean bottom glimpses of the City and all its strange and wonderful objects. The discovery of a populous City existing under fathoms of ocean is an occurrence with no precedent in the annals of exploration, one that overshadows even the discovery of the Americas by Columbus.

Self’s stories are always birthed this way: with the opening sentences. No matter how many drafts her stories go through, the opening sentences never change. If the sentence is strong, it is like a fine, big engine that can power her through — even 20 or 25 pages later — all the way to the end. See the interview she gave to Bellingham Review, the Contributor Spotlight that accompanied their publication of self’s story, Ice. (The first four or five paragraphs of Ice were unchanged from first draft)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Work-in-Progress: Inspired by a Solo Trip to Dharamsala, India, January 2012

The music comes on and she recognizes Edith Piaf. Of all things to play! Is it because she is sitting by herself in this restaurant and someone feels compelled to provide her with some distraction, some light background tune, or because they do not want her to be lonely (she is, though: loneliness is always seeping out of her skin), or perhaps they worry she is getting bored, sitting by herself at a small table, eating a vegetable chapati and sipping sweetened Masala tea at 9 in the morning when it is 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside?

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En route to Dharamsala, self stopped by a small temple. She dredged up the courage to ring the bell, too (though she couldn’t ask anyone to take her picture while doing it)

MY ANTONIA, by Willa Cather

Self finished reading The Door in the wee hours. Now she’s back to reading American novelists.

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From the foreword of the Penguin Books Edition of My Antonia:

  • In April 1883, when she was nine years old, Willa Cather was uprooted from everything she knew and loved at her birthplace near Winchester, Virginia, and taken to the prairies near the embryonic town of Red Cloud, Nebraska. The familiar green, closed-in Virginia countryside was replaced by a seemingly endless undulating landscape of shaggy red grass, “not a country at all,” says Jim Burden in My Antonia (1918), “but the material out of which countries are made.”

Beginning:

Last summer I happened to be crossing the plains of Iowa in a season of intense heat . . . While the train flashed through never-ending miles of ripe wheat, by country towns and bright-colored and oak groves wilting in the sun, we sat in the observation car, where the woodwork was hot to the touch and red dust lay deep over everything.

Great.

Stay tuned.

 

The Visayan Islands in the Late Sixteenth Century

The inhabitants of the Visayan Islands in the central Philippines were named “Pintados” by the Spanish because their skin was covered with tattoos. The first to describe them was a missionary named Loarca:

The women are extremely lewd, and they even encourage their own daughters to a life of unchastity; so that there is nothing so vile for the latter that they cannot do it before their mothers, since they incur no punishment.

And then the Catholic church came along, and put an end to the Visayan women’s lewd ways.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

2018 is SO 1461

  • In Renaissance Florence, a number of designated boxes placed throughout the city allowed citizens to make anonymous denunciations of various moral crimes — in 1461, for example, the artist-monk Filippo Lipi was accused of fathering a child with a nun.

— Claudia Roth Pierpoint, “Angels and Men” in The New Yorker (16 October 2017)

The article is a review of the Walter Isaacson biography of Leonardo da Vinci, called Leonardo da Vinci. One of the biggest surprises in the piece is the discovery that “one of the last remaining complete notebooks, the Codex Leicester,” is in the possession of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Also: “Leonardo was illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted . . . ”

Dear blog readers, last year self saw the Mona Lisa. It was May or June. A Spanish woman asked self whether she knew where the famous painting was located. Then she asked a museum guard, and the two of us went looking together. And we found it. And she asked self to take pictures of her standing in front of it. And insisted on taking a few of self.

And here’s a wide-angle shot of the gallery housing the Mona Lisa and then self making a horrible face because, honestly, she dislikes having her picture taken (not when the humidity has done things to her hair) and the crowded gallery full of people aiming their cell phones in one direction was so disorienting.

 

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Poetry Wednesday: C. P. Cavafy

An excerpt from Second Odyssey (translated from the Greek by George Economou)

Telemachos’s affection, Penelope’s
fidelity, his father’s longevity,
his band of old friends, his people’s
loyal devotion, the blissful repose of home
poured like rays of joy into the seafarer’s heart.

And just like rays, dissolved.

A thirst
awoke inside him for the sea.

This translation of C. P. Cavafy was published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Iowa Review.

Stay tuned.

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