Silence Everyone, I’m Writing My Book!

“I’m writing my book

I can’t think of a more wildly pretentious thing to say.   For extra snooty points, I should always refer to it as a novel.   Either way, it’s certainly way more hoity-toidy than saying “I’m working on my blog post about Gilligan’s Island”

Hey numbskull, I’m thinkin’ here! Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk (Image from 1Up.com)

That being said, I’ve been working on a novel for several years.  For the record, my “work” on it has been sporadic at best.  It’s not unlike someone buying oil paints and a canvas and proclaiming that they’re “working on a painting”.  The canvas is all set up on the easel, the tubes of paint are laid out next to the palette, the brushes are ready and willing.  Six months later, the entire tableau sits there inert and is covered with a thin coating of dust, the canvas still about as blank as Sarah Palin’s resume.

Last week, I went to the beach for my annual 7 days of vacation.  I told myself that since it was a vacation, I would not be writing my blog.  I was going to spare my family the sight of me hunched over the laptop all day and night typing some annoyingly self-absorbed blather and then forcing them all to read it.  Besides, it’s nearly impossible to work on my skin cancer and type at the same time, I’d end up with white frown-wrinkles running across my rather expansive forehead like elevation lines on a topographical map of Mars.

I opted for a more noble pursuit during vacation, I’d work on writing my book – I’m sorry, my novel.

I typically start my vacation days up by 5 A.M., standing knee-deep in the Atlantic watching the sun come up while not catching fish.  This year, I managed to forget my fishing equipment entirely in the frenzy to pack everything else we own into the car.  Not to worry, I’d still get up at 5, but spend my quiet morning hours writing instead.  I pictured myself out on the deck, the cool morning breeze swirling the steam from my nearby cup of coffee as I wrote chapter after chapter.  When the rest of the family eventually stumbled out of bed, I’d click “save”, shut down the laptop and start cooking breakfast, changing diapers and putting sunblock on them – the family members, not the diapers.

Sounds positively romantic doesn’t it?

My first morning on the deck proved to be less than successful.  It turns out when you’re situated two blocks from the ocean to the east and two blocks from the bay on the west, there’s lot’s of condensation on the furniture at dawn’s early light.  I went back inside on tip toes and found towels for the chair and table.  I sat myself down and flipped open the laptop.  Sadly, there was enough early light in the sky by then that I got lots of glare on the screen, and more than a few bugs.  If you want to see a “no-see-um” just have them land all over your computer screen.

I shifted to Plan B – moving my coffee, laptop and funky-bad-self into the living room.  I got cozy in a large armchair, propped my feet up on the ottoman, took a sip of coffee, and opened the file.

I knew better than to think that I’d just start writing, so I busied myself reading what I had so far.  Before long, I had found some redundancies and inconsistencies.  I reworked a few awkward sentences, moved some things around.  As for putting new words on the screen, I didn’t get to that before the rest of the family started getting up and requiring my attention.

The days ticked by as I tried unsuccessfully to get some actual writing done.  I had switched from the upholstered chair to the dining room chair with the computer on the table top.

Finally, after four days of trying, I was able to write a little bit.  Not multiple chapters, but some pages.

I realized what actual writers already know; writing is work.  It’s not supposed to be relaxing or something you do because you have some free time.  It’s not necessarily easy to do.  The end result will hopefully appear fluid and engaging – the effortless telling of a story – but there’s sweat behind it.

Unlike many pursuits, like boatbuilding or biomedical research, writing a book is something that anyone can say they’re doing.  Go steal yourself a legal pad from work, or open a new Word file.  Name it “book project”, hit save, and you’re a self proclaimed author.  On some level, that’s exactly who I am.  More correctly, that’s who I was.  I am vowing right here before my massive population of blog readers  – all 16 of you –  to not tell anyone that I am writing a novel, until I have actually written at least 3/4’s of one.

I’m going to hit “publish” now and rid myself of this post so that I can focus on my novel.

When I’m done with my novel, I’m considering taking a break from writing to try my hand at boat building or working in oils.

Claes Oldenburg and Me – Misunderstood Artists

Recently, while driving South on Broad Street in Philadelphia, my dear friend and I spotted one of Claes Oldenburg’s impressive, whimsical sculptures.  While the subject of his piece was fairly obvious, my friend thought it looked like something else.

It’s no secret that the works of artists are frequently misinterpreted by the common rabble.  Even someone as vastly cultured as myself can look at a Rothko painting and exclaim that it looks like a big block of color with another block of color in it too.

This might be about man's inhumanity to man, or maybe it's about the artist's love of delicious strawberry shortcake...or maybe not.. (Rothko white over red - Image from etc.cmu.edu/projects/atl/rothko.htm)

I might look at a Robert Motherwell painting and see nothing more than a big black rectangle.  (On a side note, I’d like to take a brief moment to thank my parents for footing the bill for that undergrad degree which included quite a few art history courses – without their support, I might have gone through life thinking that Robert Motherwell was a British soccer player).

This is a painting by Robert Motherwell, or maybe it's a lithograph. I don't need to tell you what this is about - it's obvious. (Image by elogedelart.canalblog.com/archives/2009/06/20/14146298.html)

Oldenburg though, is not someone whose work is usually subject to such blatant misinterpretation.  He’s renowned for taking everyday objects and looking at them differently.  His sculptures include subjects such as a giant clothespin (Also in Philadelphia), a soft fabric version of a toilet and as we saw on Broad Street, a giant paintbrush with a healthy dollop of red paint on the pavement beneath it.  The tip of the paintbrush is way up in the air, a celebratory salute to Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts .  Technically, the sculpture is on a section of Cherry Street which is closed to traffic, but it juts out onto Broad Street (For the record, it’s Broad Street, putting sculptures on it and adding a few extra signs doesn’t change the name to the Avenue of the Arts – sorry).

My friend, like most people, had no idea about this whole Avenue of the Arts nonsense.  When I pointed out the giant paintbrush, she took one glance and said it looked more like an elf’s foot.  Almost immediately, we began to speculate about the state of the rest of the elf.  We settled on him being awkwardly splayed out dead on Cherry Street, in full rigor mortis, a giant cartoon butcher knife stuck in his chest and a chalk outline around his profile.  The elf in my mind would bear something of a resemblance to Sonic the Hedgehog, but more elfin and dead.  The street would be cordoned off with crime scene tape as throngs of morbid curious onlookers milled around just up-wind.

You can see where we let our imaginations get the better of us. The giant, dead elf just out of sight on Cherry Street - it looked a little more convincing from the other direction (Photo by the author)

While I don’t think that artists in general enjoy having their hard work misunderstood by stooges like us, I like to believe that Mr. Oldenburg would humor us a little bit.  Although, now that I’m a massively successful blogger working in words rather than oil or marble, I believe I’ve earned the right to identify with the frustration of the misunderstood artist.

Take comfort Claes, at least someone saw your work.  If there was a “like” button for your paintbrush, I’d hit it.