Wednesday, 27 April 2011

April Diary

This is all proving more difficult than thought, and the difficulty is at least partly what did in my previous blog. I am determined, though.

A) I have lots of things to record, especially thoughts on books and films and things like that. But each one does not warrant its own post. No one needs to read 900 words of my opinion about a tiddling little novel that no one's read.

2) Finding the time is proving more of a challenge than I would like to admit, largely due to disciplinary issues. Resolution is not immediately apparent.
d) I share a computer with another very active operator, so getting exclusive use isn't always possible.

Therefore, I will definitely be doing a monthly diary roundup style thing, with occasional additional posts (hopefully at least 1 per month).

This is Megan's April Diary

  • Item! (I promise not to do that every time)

Megan & Husband attended the ballet last month. LA-DI-DAH. We saw Northern Ballet's production of Cleopatra, and dahlings, it was spectacular. We've been a couple of times now, and this is what made this production amazing for two non-dancing unartists:

The story was clearly told. In fact, the acting was exceptional overall, which is more than you can say for a lot of ballet. There was serious drama in motion, facial expressions, and general intensity and languorousness as needed. So many times I've been to a ballet or even a play where I've had to constantly be checking through the program notes to try to remember who is who and what's happening now. While there's nothing inherently wrong with that, and it's the reason playbills exist, it can be very distracting, especially when attending a performance which is based so much on the visual, and less on the aural.

The use of costumes was simple but identifying. There were only a few colors used in the whole production to differentiate everyone by status and nationality (burgundy, bright blue and white with a teensy bit of green here and there). Tutus there were not. Everything was sheer and flowy in the way people imagine the classical world, giving it all a dreamy look. Everything complemented the dancers' movements. Really lovely.

The scenery and props were used in incredibly clever ways. The staircase to the throne of Egypt doubled as Cleopatra's bed, and both served as the centre of the scenery throughout. Additionally, an exceptional use of a scarf to produce a baby-shaped bundle at the end of a steamy roll around was so clever and saucy, the audience actually had a collective giggle. At a ballet. Astounding.

Verdict: I recommend the company generally (seen a few by them) and this production specifically very highly.

  • Health update

This is quite random, but having been given the advice to eat 8 portions of fruit & veg a day by my doctor to help combat my hypertension, I can now officially state that no matter what else you do, eating 8 fruit and veg a day is probably the best weight loss regimen in existence. Mostly because you will eat such a massive amount of vegetable matter that you won't have room for anything else. I'm actually enjoying it.

Literary annoyance

Something I, as a reader, and sometimes writer find irritating: writers who write about writers or writing. And to discuss the matter, I must do something which in theory should be exponentially more irritating (but which in reality hopefully isn't): I am going to write about writers who write about writers and writing. I hate myself already.

To clarify: I do not mean writers who write biographies of other writers or who write style guides or how-to-get published cheat notes (repugnant though they all usually are). I am talking about writers whose characters are writers. And is it ever a secondary character? Oh no. No, it is the main character. It is the conceit of thinking that we, the reader, want or need or don't already know how writing works. So we must be shown the magical insides of the writer's mind, with all its affectations and superstitions and disciplined contrarianism and emo-kid anguish. As if it is some kind of pretty and rare flower we should oo and ah over. As if everyone doesn't have the same tendencies. Is there anything more boring than reading about someone else's creative process?

Most writers who do this seem to do so early in their careers, like Aldous Huxley's autobiographical character in Crome Yellow, who is a young "poet" (who hasn't written anything) who spends a holiday at a posh country house and basically observes his surroundings like a nineteenth-century anthropologist in Sumatra. I can somewhat forgive this tendency as a) there is a lot of satire going on here and b) I view it more as a study in writing for an inexperienced artist, the same way a painter will do many sketches of a subject before creating the actual painting. These etudes may be coarse and full of mistakes and unnecessary fripperies, but they are the manifestation of the artist's thinking process. And so we can admire certain aspects of them, and they may give us a greater appreciation for the ultimate work, but I think of them as things to be looked at posthumously as curiosities. There is a certain vulgarity in an author choosing to publish something like this.

Case in point: Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil. Oh my gracious--I wanted to throw this book at people I dislike. The vulgarity on display in this work is shocking. It actually makes one queasy. This is a follow-up to Martel's very successful and quirky The Life of Pi, which I read and enjoyed a few years ago. It was charming in its audacity. I genuinely liked it. In Beatrice and Virgil, however, Martel goes about writing a story which in its undercurrent is practically screaming, "My first book did so well that I've been given a MASSIVE advance to produce another one, and I haven't got anything else, so I'm going to write about myself and hope no one notices."

The main character is basically Martel--writer who wrote a wildly successful first book which included a wild animal and which has been translated into a billion trillion languages and everyone loves him so much that he has to go into seclusion to avoid getting cramp from signing so VERY many autographs. So he runs away and...egad! he is recognized by a local. The local is an odd one, and they start a correspondingly odd friendship. Blah blah blah it goes on from there. Oh, the odd local is also a playwright, and his play stars the corpses of a donkey and a monkey.

The whole thing is just painful. It is so awkward. If you have any experience yourself of writing, you just know that everyday Martel sat down at his computer and just typed and typed and typed and hoped something cohesive would come out by his deadline. It's so odd, it's so clearly contrived. Where The Life of Pi had just enough weirdness to make you think it COULD happen, Beatrice and Virgil, which is paradoxically much more realistic a scenario, feels fake. It feels like a bed time story gone very awry, where the teller just keeps adding ridiculous details until you get bored with it. And always the damn emphasis on writing and being a writer!!! It was a colossal waste for someone who is capable of such fun.

Ok, I could go on and on about it, but I won't. Leave it at this: Writers: When you write about yourself or writer characters or writing generally, do so with earnestness and as much skill as you have at that moment, then seal it away in vault to be opened only after you are dead and popular.

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