WRITERS DREAMING, Naomi Epel

This book is miss-titled. Writers do not dream and next write. Writers use their imaginations and write. Some writers have more control over their imaginations than do the majority of scribblers. I strive for the state of the imagination called The Educated Imagination. Northrup Frye authored a book by the same title, which is my source.

Hence, the idea that writers dream and writers use their imaginations confuses the issue. Dreams are not products of the imagination; they come involuntarily while the writer is unconscious. Using the imagination is a conscious activity, without which nothing gets on the page. Likewise, daydreams come from the wonderments of the mind, and may be the product of the imagination. But daydreams are not dreams.

It is a mistake to allow writers to attempt to explain the tools they employ to originate because most writers don’t understand those processes. Witness this book, which would be better presented as interviews – the interviewer had to be well-read, quickly spoken and knowledgable about each subject that came up. The editor didn’t do a complete job.

Therefore it is not surprising that the best pieces in this book are the shortest, fewer than seven pages. In the longer pieces writers show off, talking about dreams. Some mention Freud. BIG MISTAKE. The exception to my observation is the chapter by Robert Stone, which I liked.

If the writers in most chapters are accurate about their dreams, I am woefully deficient: “I dreamed last night and am writing the great American novel. Every point came to me.” OR, “I dreamed about a character which I put into my novel.” Perhaps I should stop using my imagination and load up on drugs and booze. 

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THE ART OF THE NOVEL

Collection of Prefaces by Henry James

Can’t read it. What is it about Henry James? Can’t read him. Around the end of his life he was asked to write Prefaces to a new edition of his novels. He did. Each is about 10,000 words, sentences ground out and always similar to the last, the next – the next Preface, the last Preface. One paragraph covered two (2) pages! I stopped reading it before determining whether James also decided to economize on periods and make that paragraph one sentence. If a novelist can’t describe his own work in 2,000 words, he shouldn’t try 10,000 words.

Fortunately, I bought this book on the last day of a library book sale. I put it into a bag full of books and tapes and paid $1.00 to walk out.

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

Poor entertainment, fantasy history, no character is credible, directed by Robert Redford.

This movie is set in the present day. Since there are big stars in the film it is easier to refer to the stars rather than the names of the characters each portrays.

Susan Sarandon is arrested for a murder she committed during a bank robbery while she was with the Weathermen in the early 1970s. I note that there seemed many surveillance cameras in the bank during the robber and murder, suitable for today but the 1970s? Scruffy aging looking guy comes up to Robert Redford, playing an attorney in the movie. He tells Robert, represent Susan. Robert refers the case to a Philadelphia lawyer.

It turns out that Robert is connected to Susan. He was a Weatherman, who knew all the bank robbers, who dropped out of the movement and who reentered society as an attorney in New York in 1979. Robert goes on the run and visits former Weatherman friends who help him; some of them get arrested for present and past transgressions. The FBI (Terrance Howard, Anna Kinrick) is really cleaning up. Robert wants to find a Weathergirl, now woman, Julie Christie who can testify he was not in the bank and didn’t shoot anyone. Julie was in the bank and responsible. 

This trite story never should have become a movie. A far superior movie about radicals trying to life a normal life underground and having to flee is Running on Empty (Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti). Behaviors and development of fugitive Weathermen are absent in this movie. It becomes a chase movie with no cars following one another.

The characters – Susan, Julie and Robert – are sell outs. They can still talk revolution, anarchy and radicalism, but they enjoy the good, prosperous life. The dialogue about the purity of the good old days is phony and false. All the comrades who Robert mets cherish their current lives; they flourish in American society, except for the scruffy looking guy at the beginning. The audience never sees him again; the FBI never catches up with him.

The movie has the major premise that the Weathermen split from SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) because they wanted to the bring the Vietnam War home, fight violence with violence. This is complete crap, a falsehood. The Weathermen separated from SDS for personal reasons: The Weathermen were megalomaniacs, mentally ill sociopaths and psychopaths willing to use any tactics but avoid jeopardy to themselves.(Praise for Charles Manson) They learned their social and political skills in junior high school and never progressed from there. After the split, SDS and other radicals said about the WeatherVain, “You don’t need to be a Weatherman to know who the assholes are.” Jane Alpert’s Growing Up Underground, Morrow, 1981, is an excellent book about those lives and those people. The SDS and Weatherman split is recounted in many books, most notably Todd Gitlin, The Sixties, Bantam, 1989.

Many other sources from time to time have chapters and passages telling of the persons within the Weatherman and similarly violent groups. A fair representation of the personalities (without the seedy, lustrous life) is found in Katherine, with Sissy Spacek. It is known and occasionally mentioned in Robert’s movie that the Weathermen could not agree among themselves and were unwilling to agree with anyone else. The Weathermen were individuals who Lenin described in What Needs to Be Done: “Let them call themselves Social Democrats to their heart’s content. I am not a child to get excited over a label.” Lenin himself was caught up in those pettinesses. Purportedly near death Lenin was arguing with Julius Martov, (Russian revolutionary Social Democrat living outside the Soviet Union) carrying on a disagreement of 10 or 20 years before. Lenin was for for Leninism; Martov inclined to leftist social democracy.

Problems in the late Sixties, cooking and typing were shitwork. Life was a bitch! The Weathermen had many things to argue over: money, who would do the laundry, who would wash the dishes, why they were always eating hippie food (vegetables), whether bugs in the bathroom ought to be killed, who would kill and skin the pet bunny to eat for that night’s dinner (Don’t add squirrel to the stew!), whether love meant cleaning the toilet after someone else vomited into it and mostly hit the bowl, who would do what in bed, or on the kitchen table, in the car with whom and with which species and how many people could watch and who could listen to the narration and who could talk without being interrupted.  It was a time for a lot of back to nature stuff.

It was a time when rape was described as “an attack with a friendly weapon.” In 1970 for a journalism class I reported on crime on the UC Berkeley campus and spoke with a supervisor of the UC Police Department. About rape he advised, “The woman should not resist. She ought to lay back and enjoy it.” It was a time when No did not mean No. No meant, yes, maybe, go ahead slowly. Berkeley communes and houses had free sex in the late Sixties; there are articles. Yet women found the arrangements very unsatisfactory. It is no wonder that the next “political” move was to Women’s Liberation and to Feminism.

The Weathermen were Neanderthals. They rejected monogamy and personal relationships. They adopted a new way written up by a German neanderthal, Frederick Engels who wrote that monogamy was akin to owning private property and the personal relationships were anti-socialist. All that would change under socialism. Society would become more friendly to males, as Bill Clinton aptly demonstrated. (See Engel, “The Origins of the Family: Private Property and the States.” From Feminism to Liberation, Altbach, Edit, Hoshino, Ed., Cambridge, Schenkman Publishing Co, 1971, p. 47-52 including smashing monogamy cartoon.)

Robert, actor and director, plays an attorney with a child. I know hundreds of attorneys. Robert’s first bit of dialogue involves land use and taking title to private property under the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution. Ten minutes later Robert is identified as a “public interest” lawyer; later he has a “private practice.” Robert has nice offices. Everything is modern and upscale around his assistant with a desk top computer. On Robert’s desk no stacks of files clutter the desk; there is no laptop; there seemed to be no notepads; there were no piles of messages; the phone seemed inconspicuous. There are a few diplomas on the walls and a few ” good work,” plaques. There are no photographs of his daughter or Robert’s dead wife. There is a set of Martindale & Hubbel behind Robert – Martindale is seven volumes with listings of attorneys by community and state. Inside is a brief description of law, but they are not books of law, certainly not for a “public interest” lawyer. 

PARAGRAPH A. In his office Reporter (Stupido) asks Robert whether he will represent (defend) Susan. No brainer. Robert is a “public interest” lawyer, not a criminal defense lawyer trying to handle a difficult case, murder in the 1970s. Robert would commit legal malpractice if he tried to defend Susan. His defense would result in an automatic reversal of any guilty verdict based upon inadequate representation of counsel. Robert himself would be disciplined by his state bar – attorneys get disbarred for taking cases they cannot handle. Finally, this whole interview is nonsensical, as the audience learns later. Robert is a member of the bar of New York; Susan was arrested in Vermont. Neither New York nor Vermont are where the bank robbery occurred. (Michigan) Trial will be in Michigan. Robert presumably is not licensed to practice in Michigan; he would have to jump through hoops to get permission to represent Susan there.

Susan is a sell out. She is represented by the Philadelphia attorney Robert recommends. She has the bucks because we all know Philly attorneys work cheap. Robert is an idiot. He’s supposed to be underground, avoiding publicity. But he’s a “public interest” lawyer, getting “good work” plaques, gallivanting around New York state helping on this cause or that. When he learns Susan is in trouble, he recommends a lawyer and jabbers with Stupido rather than say, I know nothing about it.

The young reporter, Stupido, approaches Robert. He wants to know why Robert won’t defend Susan. Being a reporter he knows everything that is in PARAGRAPH A. Obviously, this reporter would go to a podiatrist when a urologist is needed. But to carry the movie along, Robert is very accommodating; he lets Stupido make a complete moron of himself. At the end of the interview Robert says too much: “Thirty years ago the movement could have used a smart guy like you…”

I’m addressing Robert, the director, now. 2 + 2 = 4. The movie is set in the present day. The crimes leading to Susan’s arrest happened in the early seventies, meaning 42-44 years ago. SDS and the Weathermen split in 1968 after the Columbia University occupation in May 1968. [Most women split from SDS in the summer of 1967 after a brute told Shulamith Firestone, approaching the microphone with a feminist socialist agenda, “Go away little girl. We’re talking about important matters.”] Robert should know that when he and Paul Newman were making Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was the time when the Weatherman were plotting their moves – the Days of Rage in Chicago (fall 1969) and blowing themselves up in New York City (March 1970.) It was not 30 years ago. It was 45 years ago. Robert, the director and the actor playing a character, should also know that Robert came from the Underground to become an attorney 30 years ago – that was 10 -12 years after the bank robbery.

Having lost credibility as an arithmetic student, Robert the attorney loses all credibility as a counselor to trust when he says Stupido is a “smart guy.” This is a very inept reporter who looks like he’s lost 20 IQ points by smoking too much dope. (He’s jittery and defensive) What Robert did not say is the truth: The Weathermen were dolts and dullards. Kirkpatrick Sales in SDS reports that Weatherman leaders, Mark Rudd and Bill Aryes (Obama’s friend), bragged in meetings that neither of them had read a book for more than a year. The actor playing Stupido looks like he didn’t read the script and certainly he did not comprehend it.

The big plot twist yielded no suspense and destroyed any connect with reality: Robert is underground himself. He has the new identify as a lawyer since 1979, ten years after all the criminal acts happened. Robert is a man wanted by the pigs for murder in the Michigan robbery.

The first fallacy of the movie cannot be swallowed by the most gullible person in the audience: When one person of a dormant underground cell is found and arrested, the other members of the cell or network do not contact one another. They do not contact old friends. They are prepared to go on the lam – get cash, get disguises, have a car ready. But not Robert. He’s Robert Redford forever. Robert runs from one former Weatherman to another, endearing them to him – some get arrested. Of course, they whole point of going underground is to disappear and not see anyone who may know you. Indeed in the movie for a while, the FBI does not cancel Robert’s credit cards and ATM machine card, so they can learn where he’s going. Yet Robert always seems to have food, transportation and comfort. I inferred he was using his cards, but the FBI was slow – to keep the movie going. Anyone underground fleeing the cops would know, use no electronic devises, have no electronic transactions to allow the cops to know where you are use burn phones.

The reason Robert is on the lam is to find Julie Christie. Julie Weathergirl is still full of anarchist/radical crap. What she says is true. Obama’s Wall Street friends are looting the country. She makes her money trafficking drugs.

Julie runs to Robert. She knows about the recent arrests because the press broadcasts everything. It’s magnetism and magic to go, see Robert whom she hasn’t seen for 30 years, [45 years], [12 years], [last week?]. She wonders what the audience wonders: Why am I going? Nothing good will come of it because she knows Robert wants her to turn herself in – implicate herself and tell the cops that Robert was not in the bank during the robbery/murder. Of course Susan who is already arrested could testify to the same facts, but no one ever expects Susan to tell the truth. She’s a sell out.

Robert and Julie meet in the cabin, cold outside but not warm inside. Robert left his Viagra in New York, so Julie is disappointed. Again, why did Julie drive from California to Michigan? [For a high school reunion among the losers?] In their cabin scene it is clear that Robert was involved in the planning of the bank robbery; he just didn’t make it to the bank. If Julie admitted guilt, she would also tell about the planning. That makes Robert guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery and murder. This legal point makes the whole movie fake, phony and fraudulent. Robert is going to prison if anyone talks. Yet Robert runs around contacting people who can talk about him and the bank. Robert is not a very good lawyer. He’s dense; he should be disbarred.

Julie says she will not turn herself in. It’s the first sensible action by anyone in the movie. She leaves Robert in the cabin and runs to a pier, to a boat. She motor and sails away to the end of her life. But she’s troubled. Robert is going to prison for a robbery/murder he helped plan but wasn’t directly involved in. It is horrible. Robert Redford in the hoosegow. Watching Brubaker was hard enough. Julie turns the boat around: VOICE OVER RADIO BROADCAST: Julie turned herself in. Robert is free. It’s a sad ending. I hoped Julie would have the smarts to save Robert’s daughter from a lifetime of a further life with Robert, rather than with Chris Cooper, her uncle, openly established, less criminal and closer to her age.

Equally preposterous are the role of Stupido and the FBI. Stupido follows a very simple trail to wind up at the cabin after Julie leaves. REMEMBER the Weathermen are fugitives who want to be underground and untraceable – no public records, no trail of any kind, no revisiting of old haunts. Yet, Stupido easily learns much about Robert and his Weatherman activities and buddies and follows, whereas the FBI are steps behind. The Bureau also loses the ability to follow Robert through his credit cards. 

Everything Stupido does and the FBI doesn’t is a plot contrivance.

THE WEST OF THE IMAGINATION

This excellent book by Wiliam H. Goetzmann and William N. Goetzmann (father and son) attempts to explain how perceptions of the West (of the USA) live and how many are myths and legends. Our views are sculpteed by lands which are artworks in and of themselves. No artist, painter or photographer can ever represent Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon or numerous physical features elsewhere. In and among these monuments to the earth have come human beings, many illiterate and others incapable of recording life. The motto for the American West (and perhaps for all human history) is best described in a John Ford movie: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Art and painting represent the legends of the West. Most paintings were made put on canvass in the West. Early on, painters sketched and painted in the off-season in the East. OR, paintings were made in a studio long after an incident occurred e.g. Custer’s Last Stand. Indeed, one depiction was known as the “Anheuser-Busch Poster” a marketing tool. Beer drinkers could sit in bars and saloons and speculate about the Last Stand. Of course, recent forensic studies have proven all the paintings, legends and eye-witness accounts, are pure fantasy. In 1913 another Indian battle Wounded Knee, was filmed using as many participants of the original incident as could be gathered. All but one reel of the film has been lost.

More myths? How many United States soldiers did Native Americans kill after 1865? Another history gave the answer of fewer than 1000. But given the massacres depicted in film and in some books, it seems the total amounts to a genicide. Until reading the Goetzmanns’ book I did not know that forts west of the Mississippi were not attacked by Native Americans alone; they knew the futility of attacking fortifications. The books mentions one of the last attacks of a fort or settlement, circa 1770, Booneville, Kentucky, the settlement of Daniel Boone. Yet, film is primarily responsible for perpetuating the myth of numerous attacks in the nineteenth century.

The chapter on Frederick Remington is excellent. When individual artists come up much humorous stuff comes out: Buffalo Bill’s first impresario, Ned Buntline, had the unprofitable careers as an U.S. Army deserter, an politician-instigator of race riots in St. Louis, a bigamist and a temperance reformer, all before he went into entertainment. But the best chapter is about Charles Russell and his business-savey wife, Nancy. When he was considered to paint a mural for the Montana House of Representatives, Russell told the committee in very Western fashion: “If you want cupids and angels and Greek goddesses, give this New Yorker the job. If you want a western picture, give it to me.”

What Remington and Russell show in paintings, drawings and sculpture was motion in the world they knew. They did that as well as anyone. Viewers can see a paintings and know what had happened in time before the painted scene; the viewer can anticipate what will happen. Viewing A Dash For the Timber  (Remington) horses and riders are coming at the viewer. Russell’s, Smoke of a .45, the viewer is in a gun battle and wants to stand out of the way of bullets and fleeing men on horses. These paintings catch motion as completely as Rembrandt did in The Night Watch, or Michelangelo did with Moses. (see Sigmund Freud essay) Yet contemporaries of Remington and Russell (Impressionists) did not show motion well. Their paints relied on technique and style to project the images.

The painters and most other Western painters knew the animals they painted and drew – standing still, at peace, cold, war, running, off balance. At art schools in the East horses and other animals were dissected in classes to demonstration motion of the animal, for the greenhorn students. And all artists knew the magic of horses: Frank Tenney Jackson explained, “People like to buy pictures with white horses. If I paint a picture with one horse in it – it’s a two-hundred dollar picture. If I paint the horse white, it’s a four hundred dollar picture.” (319)

This book is entirely too short. Not every picture discussed is shown. There could easily be another 100 prints. More text could be hand about a painter’s impression of his intervention with nature to produce art; and the historians could tell by interpretation the painter’s impressions. In its survey the text runs through movies as being an extension of painting and photography, but movies distort the history, perpetuating myths and legends. The text about movies runs until 1970; Westerns are on the decline; comedy rips apart the genre in Blazing Saddles; also omitted is the saloon scene from The Great Race. The end of the Western era arguably lasted in 1976 with John Wayne’s, The Shootist.

A sidebar about Westerns and movies: Taking the place of Westerns and its heroes  and anti-heroes in this day of Machines Take Command are crime stories whether the protagonist be a detective, a private investigator, a low-life cop or a rogue spy. The common elements to these characters, whatever be the previous job, is an obsession for truth, justice and the underhanded way, plus a speck of heart that is gold. 

Finally, the authors of The West of the Imagination observe an disturbing trend that is running amock today:  “Modern publishers seem to think that the eye measures the depth of the popular mind.” (314) As for this book, READ IT.

NATURALLY BEWILDERED

I’ve long held the opinion that human beings look for ways and people that take them from accepted routines, understandings and strictures. I saw a quote from Bruce Lee which many human beings follow: Always obey principles but never feel bound by them. Human beings willingly go far, endangering themselves and others in the exploration of life.

Where does my thinking put me today? Not very venturesome. I have a manuscript to edit. I wrote three stories in 2011 which I lumbered through. Parts of them are imaginative and engaging, but passages and some chapters are clunky. I now like rewriting and editing. Every first draft is a meager communication of the imagination, what it intended, what it could produce or what must be created off the draft. The process of fixing everything, not all at once, excites me. An advantage I have – Time has written and rewritten the book, in my mind. I now know what is important, what might be improved, and what is stupid and never should have been dropped in.

I’ve begun to edit, getting through 1500 words in the shortest novel. That’s not enough; I suspect the opening needs rewriting. The words do not impel the reader into the story, and I also added a theme which will carry through the novel. No one can drop in a second draft references to a running theme throughout the entire manuscript.The best I can do is make each paragraph and each chapter as cogent, comprehensible and complete as it can be. In the third draft I can attach the chapters to one another. Two more drafts aren’t onerous, just careful.

Of course that level of detail and concern varies greatly from the great sweep of mind a writer must when dreaming and driving a writing along a new story. My last effort to devise, dream and drive was so arduous and fitful that: I didn’t want to – I want to – I didn’t want to – do it again. In essence I’m conflicted, disorganized and unsettled. I know how to calm myself: Read, read very good books, read stuff that carries me along.

Almost every book I buy now comes from library book sales. The History of Dogma, Vol 1-7, by Harnick is heavy lumber. Early Christianity, Vol 1- 4, ditto. Each meets the review of Pilgrim’s Progress appearing in Huckleberry Finn. “About a man who left home; it didn’t say why. Statements in it were interesting but tough.”

It’s good to read books that give new information, new pleasures and new exposures. I found one, The West of the Imagination, William N & H Goetzman (father & son). How do Americans perceive the West? How did the new country perceive the West? Will we be stuck with “When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend,” from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The book tells of exploration and painters production of art as they traveled through the West. So far I’m surprised to learn that Native Americans liked to have their portraits painted.

Whatever I may gain from reading, and until now, everything that amused me was a means to prepare myself to write. None of the reading was research; it was background, sensing what is good and bad. Military histories usually have a quick pace; it is the subject matter. Novelists have to write well. I may read as many as 50 books, and at the end I exhaust myself – I want to read no more: Garbage in. Time for Garbage out. Many fewer words go out than come in.

I mentioned library book sales. I’ve been lucky. Early Christianity volumes in excellent condition was $5.50. A biography of Theodore Roosevelt by Carleton Putnam was $.15. Carleton from New York got his BVDs in a twist in the last 1950s, and publicly he came out against integration. No more Roosevelt volumes, but he wrote an inconsequential book about race, the nineteenth century sort of thing that relied on antidotal evidence but no studies and no research. George Washington as the French Knew Him, Chinard, also cost $.15. I’m hardly prosperous by these purchases, but I beat the world of bar codes and scanners.

None of this instantly changes my state of mind to allow me to write an original story. I have to sit and wonder at the world passing me by – current events, other artists with energy producing and my own inertia. I’ll have to wait. I can not write everyday because I don’t do [platform] [serial] [genre] fiction. So now I’ll write nothing big, but every so often I’ll write and post something like this.   

 

TELEVISION

I watch it, but the commercials are stupid, lame, offensive or not applicable – thus irrelevant, boring and odd. Imagine the condition of bad bowels made into a viewable commercial. Buy this product for the remainder of your life (it never cures), or until your body tires of it, or a side effect kicks in – toes fall off. Think about bowel ads with Warren Buffett’s Gecko commercials. An alimentary canal seems the perfect place for a Gecko.

Watching sporting events is now driven by commercials. Don’t play any game too fast because too much commercial time is wasted. Fit in that 15 second spot for a car part while the team lines up and signals are called. A flash trademark covers the screen and fades just as the ball is snapped. Viewers get the play, penalty but never the replay. The broadcasters flounder, flubbing names and plays, losing the ball and wondering about the next ad – beer, insurance or tires while also wondering which sideline-babe-announcer should get equal air time. I rarely watch and never a full game because commercials interrupt the game and the pace of play. It is no longer football, basketball or base ball. Waits for commercials must be very frustrating for the paid audience, persons in attendance at the event. 

More ridiculous are American viewers who pay to get sports packages on cable. Getting that service does not let anyone avoid watching every commercial from here to eternity. So rooted are commercials in the American mind, that the following anecdote is instructive: In the late Sixties a wife soon to become a widow was at her husband’s death bed. She also learned why the romance was gone from the marriage. She leaned in, touched his cheek, pressed his hand and kissed him saying, “I love you.” His response: “You have bad breath.” Now you know why hippies hit that decade. Ronald Reagan described hippies best: “Dress like Tarzan, have long hair like Jane and smell like Cheetah.”

Americans are stuck with commercials dictating program-TV. It was once that commercial time was limited, I believe six minutes per hour. But today commercial breaks last three or four minutes. I know this because I DRV all commercial TV shows to watch without commercials. There’s three minutes at the end; there’s possibly four minutes at minute 44 of each hour, to gear up for the big finale. The commercial break at the beginning of the show can be 2 minutes, but the next near minute 18 is 3 minutes.

I suppose commercials have some instructional value. Somebody else living here decided time to buy salted sunflower seeds. There are no commercials showing how to consume and enjoy sunflower seeds – it’s better just to put a little salt on the tongue. Sunflower seeds are still the pain in the neck they always were, spitting out husks and seeds and getting debris between my teeth. 

So I don’t watch TV shows when broadcast. Too many commercials advertising sleeping potions and pills: Get hooked on our drugs and pay a fortune. It’s American life – the American way.