Thursday, January 31, 2013

writing sex scenes... why?

Fiction writers are familiar with the fallacy. Readers attribute details and events that happen to characters in fiction to the writer's own experiences and life. A character in a novel has a dog. The writer receives handsome leashes and cute doggie toys from admiring readers for a dog she doesn't have. Etc.
I'm guilty myself. I recently read a novel by a woman whom I only know via a mutual friend. One of the male characters in her book bears a copycat physical resemblance to the man in her life. It was hard, while reading, not to imagine the two characters in the book as the real-life people. (Which is not as easy as it sounds--holding up such an exacting mirror to create characters. Personally, I prefer making up characters to copying people.) Then I got to the sex scenes.
That led me to wonder about readers of my fiction attributing the dialogue, habits, opinions and activities--including sexual--of my characters to me. I hope they don't and wish they wouldn't. I don't want them thinking they're eavesdropping on my supper conversation. I certainly don't want them in my bed! The best way to avoid the latter would be not to write sex scenes. Well, sure.
Except that sex is such an interesting way to explore character. The buttons that push sexual appetite are deeply rooted in the psyche. And what about that sinuous relationship between the language of sexuality and self-image? Sex can reach back into apprehensions/discomfort/knowledge/promptings a character didn't understand as a child. Haven't you had sex with someone who's acting out a fantasy that has nothing to do with who you are? What's that all about? Some characters feel comfortable about sex, some embarrassed. For some, it's an enjoyable way to relax, a furtive act best hidden, a game, a hygienic exercise, fraught with worries about getting pregnant. And oh, yes, love. Sometimes sex is an expression of love, which is another weird equation that doesn't always add up.
Among the many facets of character that are available to explore, sex is one of them. So that's why my characters will continue to be sexual beings, as well as beings who go to work (or don't), buy groceries, climb ladders, have allergies...
Which brings me back to the top. Do my characters act and think like me? I've written too many characters by now. Opposing types, different genders, various ages. They can't all be like me! No doubt some of them have traits I share, but mostly I like to make up characters and stories.
In grade school a teacher wrote on my report card: "Alice has too much imagination." She meant it as criticism. It wasn't the kind of school where teachers were on the lookout for fledgling artists or writers. Quick instincts on the soccer field were more important.
I'm no good at kicking balls. I'm glad my imagination survived childhood.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

writing platform

This isn't about marketing or web pages. I'm referring to the physical platform whereon one writes. Anyone who has spent a zillion hours at a standard desk understands what I mean here. The most expensive ergonomic chair, correct angle between elbow and keyboard, knee and hip and floor--even lumbar pillows--only go so far. After days upon weeks upon months upon years, the back (or legs or hips--writers' bodies differ) no longer likes to sit in a chair. That no longer likes manifests itself as pain. Or worse.
There are companies designing expensive desks with raised surfaces that not only allow one to work while standing, but even to use a treadmill. Last month there was an article in The New York Times on the perils of sitting: decreased body metabolism, rise in cholesterol, risk of developing diabetes.
I don't know about all that. Maybe it's true. Maybe in three years, there will be another study done showing that sitting doesn't cause a rise in cholesterol. But, in the meantime, the ergonomic furniture people will have made a lovely bundle.
I'm trying to avoid sitting for too long because my back tells me I'll end up crippled if I don't provide some variety. A couple of years ago I devised my own inexpensive and shabby--but functional--version of a standing desk. Here it is: my ironing board, which I can raise and lower for that perfect elbow and keyboard alignment. There's room for laptop, pages, a mug. I can easily move it to the window or to the lamp. My back loves it. Me, I shuffle my feet sometimes. Sitting is still more comfortable. But, for this game, the back rules.
Lately, I've been standing so often that I'm considering getting a dedicated writing ironing board. Just the frame. Writing doesn't require heat-resistant padding. Not at the speed at which I write.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

shopping for fancy tights vs wood stove

shopping for fancy tights vs wood stove

Here's a post I wrote Oct 31, 2011. You'll excuse me for reposting but here, on a snowy Montreal morning (almost noon), with snow settling on the cars parked along the street, I was feeling nostalgic for the coast and the crackling of the wood stove. Of course, the coast doesn't look like this now. It's frozen to the horizon. But I'd go, if I could get there, even with the house buried halfway up the windows in snow.

Home again. Which is good too, because much as I love being by the sea, I love Montreal as well. Here, we've got hustle and bustle, a mix of people, cultures and languages, a skyline of cornices, shopping for fancy tights, reading on the subway, asparagus that doesn't cost $4 for 12 stalks, and more.
By the sea we have a wood stove and a super wide-screen horizon of water. Except for deciding when to go to bed--and technically you could fall asleep on the sofa--and what to eat, there are no distractions. You could veg until you turn to mulch. Or delve deep into a book--reading or writing--or finish the vest you started knitting eons ago and never got as far as the armhole.
In city terms, that's called going off the grid. One of our neighbours in the Gaspé, who realized that we have no telephone, internet or TV at our house, nodded sagely and called it a "purification". You have to think that word in French said with pursed lips. If I ever wondered how the neighbours out there see us city people who arrive for a couple of weeks a year to tromp along the beach and pick up stones, there I have it. We come for a purification. That's not yogic or meditational or for physical health reasons. That's old-fashioned Roman Catholic purification.
On the last two days by the sea we could feel that winter was coming to the coast. You could smell snow in the air. The wind cut. I needed earplugs--in addition to a hat--to walk by the water. Rain, turning to sleet, lashed the windows. Dramatic skies with towering clouds.
One of the last silly things I did was to take a video of the waves washing up on the beach. Of course, that's silly. I mean... waves. I could watch a video of waves at any time on Youtube. Gorgeous aqua surf off the coast of Australia. A harsh Maritime storm in Cape Breton. People take videos of everything and anything. Recently I wanted to describe a woman's hand movements in a story I was writing. I was thinking of that Lady Macbeth motion that flies do with their front legs. "Out, damn'd spot!" Scrub, scrub. It's been a while since I had a close look at a house fly so I clicked on Youtube. Do you realize how many people have videoed flies?
I hardly needed to video the waves across from our house in the Gaspé--except that no one has taken a video of that particular shale beach with its ad hoc boulders of granite shaped by the deep. And this winter, when I'm holed up at home in the city, I'll enjoy those few moments of salty water splashing the rocks.