Tag Archives: Vancouver

How Do I Fit This Ghost In My Mouth?

8 Sep
From Geoffrey Farmer's "The Surgeon and the Photographer" at the Vancouver Art Gallery

From Geoffrey Farmer’s “The Surgeon and the Photographer”

I’m grateful to have caught “How Do I Fit This Ghost in My Mouth?”, Geoffrey Farmer‘s exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery this weekend. I had never heard of Farmer, and I was entranced. “The Last Two Million Years” is a collage sculpture that takes up an entire room, comprised of hundreds of figures meticulously cut from a found Reader’s Digest encyclopedia of the same title. I was awed not just at the amount of work that went into the installation, but the impulse to pin down layers of ephemera–not only tiny details in a vast history that feels impossible to contain but also the fleetingness of the found book itself, which stands eviscerated as you exit the room.

The Surgeon and the Photographer” gathers images in a similar though more surreal manner, creating Dadaist characters from used books salvaged from a closed down used bookshop as well as fabrics. The sculptures are called puppets, suggesting one might inhabit them, give them voice and stories, and they’d be rich and complex stories indeed. Somehow this piece recalled for me a bizarre puppet movie I once saw as a tiny person, sitting alone in the attic in front of our old knobbed television tuned to a UHF channel. Faceless wooden mannequins sat chained in tubs of water and turned their heads, vaguely squeaking but unable to talk. I was utterly mesmerized and alarmed and had no idea what I was looking at.

The most thrilling installation for me was “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” — an eerie room filled with moving sculptures made of old movie props (lion heads, snakes with blue light bulb teeth), a haunting soundscape (bells, chimes, wind), and lights that shift from green to red to blue so that when it finally becomes white, the colors of the objects are almost a shock. The room is programmed to last the duration of an entire day, and I was very tempted to try and experience it for that long.

Alas, we did not spend the entire day there. After leaving the museum, we encountered a zombie-themed wedding and wondered if the square outside Vancouver Art Gallery has a similar function to New York’s Union Square. On the beach by English Bay, at sunset, we saw someone make enormous soap bubbles that shrieking children and adults alike chased to pop. We found a wonderfully curated independent bookstore called Pulp Fiction (I picked up The Dud Avocado and M picked up Wanderlust), and we watched a man train an enormous pit bull puppy on Kitsilano Beach with the help of beautiful red husky, and we gorged ourselves on Ukrainian, Malaysian, and Italian food. We also found time to just sit still and read. And, thanks to Geoffrey Farmer and all kinds of other stimuli, I wrote a poem, possibly the first I’ve written that I actually kind of like. Maybe I’ll even send it out. Art wins!

Refilling the well

26 Oct
A fresh green chestnut

A fresh green chestnut

I’m retraining myself to write novels. My first novel is floating in the ether, I wrote a quick, rough draft of my second novel some time ago, I focused on finishing my short story collection, and now, with the leaves falling off the trees outside, I’m in my dark office x-raying that second novel to get at an outline.  I already had a couple outlines in hesitant pencil, one very bare bones, one a bit more detailed. But I’m hesitant to launch into a rewrite yet as I seem to still be in a fallow period. I’d have loved to take a suitcase full of books into the woods and just read for 10 days. Alas.  A decent second option was to bolt to Vancouver with M. for the weekend, where two writer friends were visiting from New York. We gorged ourselves on dim sum, wandered around Coal Harbor and the West End, had cocktails at Cloud 9, a bar that rotates on top of the Empire Landmark hotel and that has some very 1995 cocktails (we stuck to a gin martini and an old-fashioned), and went on a short, mild hike where we spotted purple and orange mushrooms and black slugs and a seal. We waved at the seal, and the seal seemed to give us a little nod before disappearing in the water, probably grumbling that we took his lunch spot, Cod Rock. All this to say, there are different ways to refill the well. Reading and travel (and with travel, eating) are some of my favorite ways. So is looking at art.

I feel a little out of shape, novel-writing-wise, because I’m at the difficult step where I’ve decided to rewrite entirely. The first draft was quick fun, throwing details on the page and seeing what sticks.  I want to be a lot more strategic about the second draft.  I decided to try using novel writing software, to help me feel less scattered, and a few friends recommended Scrivener. This morning I finally started to get the hang of it, and now I have a more detailed outline with fancy arrows and nesting files and everything. Soon (hopefully!) I can go deeper into the writing cave to write those scenes.

Outlining at this point feels helpful, but sometimes I outline when I’m stuck in writing because I don’t know what else to do. I might already have the outline in my head. I might have gone over that outline obsessively already. But I still write it down, maybe more than once, as if I’m in a holding pattern, and then it just feels like treading water.  In a way, it is like a writing exercise I used to do, coming up with arbitrary lists of specific things. But it is also very different from those lists. Rather than racing from plot point to plot point., those lists try to get me to think about very specific details or to think about words I don’t often use. Red things; things that start with the letter V. More particularly (while still being quite broad), Ray Bradbury recommended making lists of nouns as a way to jog creativity. He wrote, “Make  a list of 10 things you hate and tear them down in a short story. Make a list of 10 things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.” Such sound advice, for not only finding ways into writing, but writing with passion.

Back in September, as Rosh Hoshanah approached and I thought about all the oncoming holidays (hello, Thanksgiving-Hanukkah merger), I thought it would be fun to just write a list of all the dishes my grandparents, great aunts, etc. were known for. I invited M. to add to that list.  This got me thinking about how many stories might be in each these specific dishes as well, and how revisiting memories is another way to refill the well.

Here’s that dish list:

Bubby’s mandelbrot

Grandma’s chopped liver

Aunt Shirley’s jello molds

Aunt Ellen’s meatballs in a sweet tomato sauce

Aunt Myra’s chicken schnitzel

Grandpa’s sarmale (large and loose and juicy)

Eva’s matzo balls (dense as bricks)

Aunt Shirley’s brisket

Mom’s meatloaf

Grandpa’s meat pies

Bubby’s Swedish meatballs

Grandpa’s cheese pies

Bubby’s matzo balls (large and fluffy)

Aunt Myra’s walnut cake

Mami’s salade de boef

Grandma’s apples and rice

Grandma’s salade de boef

Eva’s fish soup

Eva’s salade de boef

Aunt Myra’s trifle

Eva’s sarmale (small and tight and smoky)

Grandpa’s fried kippers and onions

Grandma’s upside down cakes  (fruity and light)

Eva’s plum dumplings

Grandma’s plum dumplings

Mr. C’s plum dumplings

Everybody’s plum dumplings

What do you do in your fallow periods? How do you get yourself ready for big creative projects?

Related posts:

1. Background Reading for a Novel-in-Progress

2. Parking Signs to Power Lines

3. Writing from Art

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