THE COUNTRY UNDER MY SKIN

Gioconda Belli

In a store the cover says this book costs $16.00. Imagine my delight when I found a copy in new condition at a library sale for a quarter. Having read a bit, I want my two-bits back. I’ll explain.

The book’s cover states, “A Memoir of Love and War.” It is a memoir, not an autobiography, a more serious effort to convey one’s life and put it into context. A memoir might include overly described incidences. Either autobiography or memoir, there is a beginning, a middle and an end, all advanced chronologically so the reader can easily understand the progress of the tale and the life. 

There are no memoirs with flashbacks or advances in time of twenty years. That sort of book comes from from science fantasy, or are by alcoholics and other drug users.

Chapter One announces, Cuba, 1979 – arriving at a shooting range, although the author is 30 years old and the describes the trip like a elementary school outing to see animals at the zoo. 

NEXT PAGE: 

“I see you liked the .50, didn’t you?” Fidel mused with a malicious grin when I saw him a few days later. He had come to visit the Sandinista delegation and we had been summoned to the Presidential Suite. I said nothing. I smiled at him. He turned back and continued talking to Tito and the other companros who had been invited to Havana for the Cuban Revolution’s twentieth-anniversary.

I sat back and watched them. It was inevitable that the sight of Fidel would stir a collage of memories in my mind. Fidel was the first revolutionary I had ever heard of….

Reader to author: You are writing a memoir. You are not telling of the memories of your mind. Tell what happened. The author is to put those thoughts and related actions into a cogent form, not as a distracting interruption to the text.

And what about extra words, which undoubtedly clutter the author’s mind and her text? It is, “ I watched,” not “I sat back and watched them,” like you are a princess where her view of the open room allows her to spy on everyone – Revolutionary Number Uno meets Revolutionary Number Quinto. Plus if an author is sitting back, watching, she is describing the scene and the people, not recalling Fidel from her earlier memories. Finally, does the author have an impression of Fidel in the room other than her prosaic memories? Is Fidel there truly because he likes the clapping of the 50?” “Does he ask anyone for a match to light his cigar?” “Is he there trolling for babes?”

Not once does the author mention Fidel is Fidel Castro. She should do a little name dropping, after all she married someone named Castro but afterward dumped that hubby for another. 

The description of Fidel reminds me of Fidel Gonzales from Paraguay. I always suspected that Fidel had Leftist tendencies, so being in Cuba in 1979 would not be out-of-sorts. Fidel Gonzales is a good guy. The blackmarket is his business – electronics, leather goods (South American are the best; don’t buy Chinese) and garments. Fidel is thinking about opening his own fashion house. I don’t believe all the trademarks and labels are legit, but if a gown survives a season, then falls apart and the price is right, who cares? Fidel makes a lot of money on fake clothes.

About 1000 words later at the beginning of Chapter Two the author flips to Santa Monica, California, 1998. So much for chronology; so much for Fidel; so much for love and war. There is much to be said about muddleness. The subtitle of Chapter Two is, Where I tell of certain bizarre connections between California, interoceanic canals, and my life. 

Can anyone tell me how I can get my twenty-five cents returned?

NONOWMO NO MO’

Many of us remember November novel writing month. I heard about it and said, What the hell? Do it but start early. [There are a long list of cheaters, cads and horse thieves in the family.]

I began with a novel about my life. I’ve always failed when writing anything factual and completely honest about myself. This was another chance. It didn’t work. My standards were too high; I couldn’t meet them. Perhaps it’s a family limitation.

Maybe I should get religion. If movies are correct Jews talk about all sorts of things, airing feelings and telling one another what’s wrong with life and the with the lives others are living. A lot of what is discussed is true. It frequently happens in the movies that issues, problems and dilemmas are happily resolved for one or another of the actors.

I could become Catholic and confess, but that takes guts to tell a complete stranger wrong deeds and tales of woe. The worst that happens is a requirement to repeat Hail Marys. I’ve seen Hail Marys work on the football field, but a team that relies on them too much isn’t very good. Once again the movies are instructive. I’ve forgotten the title but Stephen Rea is a priest hearing confessions at a church in Ireland. Suddenly the penitent bolts from the booth, and Rea whisks out yelling, “That is disgusting…” Confession is entirely too intimidating.

I don’t believe religion would work for me, due to family limitations.

I did continue to write in November, but not about myself but about my activities: writing. There’s lots of fraud and dishonesty written about writing; I advanced in a very disorderly way. Excelling was a family strength.

The writing was a mess. The longest coherent segment was 500 words. Some were a line: “I’ve never solved a Soduko puzzle.” That is a qualification for proclaiming myself a writer. Part of my approach was reading and researching while writing, and my impressions couldn’t be put anywhere. I wrote about the same subjects the other writers wrote about writing. I had 41,000 words and stopped with days to go in November.

I began cobbling things together in January. I took a break. February, I had productive days. Almost half of it was revised, but what remained needed work and thinking. I glowered at the manuscript for three weeks until Spring 2014, when getting it done was the only job I would do: 35 pages, 12 pages, 20 pages and this morning 2 pages.

From the 41,000 November words, I have 54,000 words, most of which make sense. Part of all the text can be better organized.The amount of work no longer involves the whole manuscript, only chapters. I can’t say what the genre is. There are signs of my life in it, and my impressions of writing. I call it a How-to Memoir. Time and the subconscious will write now. I’ll take another shot at the manuscript in June, when revising won’t take two months.

HISTORY AND FICTION

bitch. cover

When I went to write Bitch. (iBookstore, michael ulin edwards), I was determined to make it autobiographical. I learned after three major drafts and a long process of 20 years, that autobiography was impossible. It would make a bad book. Some of the reasons can be found in Twentieth Century Journey, William L Shirer, vol. i, Preface; Autobiography of Mark Twain, U.C. Press, Berkeley, 2011, vol. 1, on writing memoirs/autobiography.

I was motivated to write the life and times of Berkeley, 1968-1973. While there I had forces coming at me. I determined they would best be represented by FIVE major characters, plus subsidiary characters folded into the stories of the FIVE. At that point the book could not be autobiographical; it could not be biographical. It could be history. Recount events as truthfully and accurately as I could, but the characters had to be representations. [Readers have commented that they know these characters.]

As much as I ran from place to place in Berkeley, observing and stuffing everything into my memory (which is not entirely why I almost flunked out my first year – I was also taking the wrong classes and my perspective on learning was horribly distorted), I could not tell the story of Berkeley with one character being everywhere at once: Peoples Park Riot Day, May 15, 1969 – in class on the north side of campus; in the riot itself; at the swimming pools in Strawberry Canyon; wandering around Dwinelle Hall. The FIVE characters and others were useful to convey what had to be said.

It is also impossible for a individual to tell his story when hormones, urges, the environment, economics are exerting influences affecting the person. What is the order? What is the priority? What is important? Those day to day, sometimes hour to hour or minute to minute considerations which may or do change affected human being senses – hear, see, smell, feel, taste – will shift the ground and upend any story.

If the reaction to life under those circumstances is the same, that makes for a dull human being. If the reaction to life under those circumstances whipsaws the human being into incapacity, he becomes confused and worthless. If the reaction causes the human being to take the brunt of it and react intelligently, predictably or making-do, that is the easier story to tell.

IMG

In 200,000 words I came up with the FIVE characters, two guys and three women, living and telling their lives (some aspects of my life) in Berkeley from September 1968 through the summer of 1973. They lived through riots, demonstrations, classes, drugs, life, city and academic events and state and national actions, all told within this novel. [There are 450 notes and a bibliography.]

Also, I could not tell my own story for a personal reason. Who could be truthful about being psychological creepy and sociology awkward then, (probably eccentric today) in a terrifying place. That doesn’t describe the discomfort, the violence and the shock of watching crap on the streets being played out and the acceptance of it by everyone in Berkeley. About 20 years ago I talked to someone I knew as a student. He tried to fit in and spoke the language as a student. His evaluation of those times upon meeting him again was reduced to one word: “Strange.” He didn’t want to talk about what he thought or was doing as a student, which was likely “creepy” and “weird.”

It seemed I was the only person who considered everything going on was strange, weird and ill for society. I may have been suited for a college campus in the 1920s, but I was stuck at Berkeley. I did not want to be a statistic and a loser: Someone told me when I entered that the average stay of a student at Berkeley was four quarters. (The University is much more mellow today which is why it is not a place of excellence.)

While a student at Berkeley, I didn’t like and actually detested loud music, drugs, and the recklessness of students, their lives a step from the street. Everything seemed reenforced by the citizens of Berkeley. Condemning this gross, communal lifestyle is a theme of Bitch.. Indeed, I dislike any communal styles, community standards, something my generation embraced and never let go of, and something which has been passed onto to their children and grandchildren: The collective.

We are not raising children today to be individuals, to think on their own. They are accepting, too much of collective action, group-think, the so-called common good. They have been taught, It Takes a Village – Collective actions are the bases of all advancement. Those are  wet dreams rolling from the Left of the Sixties and from Radical Feminism. (See Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex.)

Finally, I did not want to be like any of the FIVE. I put a lot of distance between myself and Berkeley. Not in the novel is: at the end of my Berkeley studies, I wanted to be a composer, but I had injured my left hand and couldn’t play the piano. I was lost to the activities I was prepared for. Law school intervened, but within ten years I had turned to writing.

This post is the second using the cover and the diagram (outline) that I have made. The subject is different because the text differs.

STUPID: Novel Writing

I am not unhappy. I’m complacent. 

Under the mistaken impression that everyone was writing a novel in November, NANOWRIMO, I said, “I’ll try.” I’ve already written a novel this year: JUNKETS, iBookstore, michaelulinedwards, 99 cents, an espionage story without the flair of Ian Fleming or James Bond but funny and humorous.

Having advanced notice, I began novel writing in October with no theme and no concept, just write and continue writing. The protagonist ran through Chapters One and Two.

I can correct this in rewriting and revisions, but with the next text I began writing my thoughts about writing. Writing is what I believed my protagonist was doing. I stayed with the third person using my character’s name, rather than personalize the story to “I.”

I have 40,000 words with no iota of an idea, a particle of a plot, a fragment of fancy left in me.It’s not too bad considering I gave up on character development 30,000 words ago.

While writing it took a while to realize this is no novel [last weekend]. It’s an essay or worse. Reminiscences, a memoir or autobiography. I wrote a long book about university days [Bitch., a verb not a noun, a period not a dot, iBookstore, michaelulinedwards, Berkeley 1968-1973]. Afterward I vowed never again to write anything in that genre – autobiography, memoirs or reminiscences – true life or fibs.

Yet that is what I have in the 40,000 words, draft one. Thoughts and impressions of writing and my writing career. There’s no organization to it at all. I tossed in everything. I’ll learn whether there is an unconscious organization in my brain. A week ago upon finishing a topic, I believe I had a theme in it. Don’t ask which one or what it is about.

This week I asked myself, what to write next. I had a bunch of unrelated subjects – writing in coffee shops, intellectualism in the creative process, bookstores, and this morning, copyediting. I wrote sentences, one paragraph or multiple paragraphs, and I dumped all those unrelated subjects at the end.

Before Thanksgiving I thought, time to research. Learn what other writers have published: Library time. Books are essay-like with autobiographical overtones. Likely I’m stuck in this genre. Upon rereading something will likely make sense, and I can put all the pieces together in a massive cut and paste. It will be a masterpiece to add to two novels, already written about writing but not edited. 

That all may be a madness. I’ve gotten a lot of errant thoughts out of my brain and away from my being. That is helpful. I know, however, I won’t rewrite right away.