Saturday, January 21, 2012

Notes from Last Week: Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow

[I thought I'd posted this last week, but just found out I'd just saved it as a draft. But it records things important to me, so I'm posting it again, anyway.]

Yesterday was a good day. The little one woke up at 6 am, and we decided to walk around the place we live and go bird-watching. I had the energy to make a good breakfast and run at the gym, then finish yesterday's homework (long, and I prepared myself to report something in front of the class), and attend a good class (poetics).

Poetics is so interesting. We're reading different writers' writings on writing and I am so happy to read about them asking the same questions I have about writing, and coming up with answers that help me move along in thought and on the page. They also help me identify which writing I really want to do, and clarify why I want to do that.

I prepared a report on an excerpt from Annie Dillard's Living by Fiction--one where she asserts that fiction "interprets" the world by presenting itself as an object of interpretation, rather than a vehicle for the (direct?) revelation of insight; and where she states her own aesthetics regarding fiction--it's good fiction when there are not less than two layers to a story (she doesn't say this; I am paraphrasing rather clumsily)--the surface, and the author's interpretation of the world, which the reader is intended to come to by the end of the reading (meaning, this interpretation is perfectly concealed and yet utterly convincing, without the reader knowing that she has been led to conclude about the world what the author has previously concluded). To ensure that the reader does not get fixated on the 'beautiful surface' of the work, the author must have sufficient expressive power (a "tension of tone") that incites the reader to examine where the tension (rather than ease) in expression is coming from. I liken this to the power of love--haha--and this perceived congruence between love and the expressive power of which she speaks makes writing fiction a more attractive challenge to me.

She also distinguishes between fiction and lyric poetry, in that the latter's content is often unfabricated (she says) and lyric poetry is a vehicle for the revelation of insight (after reading the text, you are led to insight). But I wonder whether this is a false distinction she makes between lyric poetry and fiction. I don't agree that the content of lyric poetry is real life, even if she prefaces her statements to this effect with the word "often". Isn't everything already an interpretation, so that the content of which one speaks in lyric poetry is already mediated and transformed by us when we transform it into language?

And I don't know that lyric poetry can't also have the two-levels of meaning that good fiction, according to Dillard has; or that lyric poetry is a moment, rather than a created world (as fiction is, she says). I recall reading certain poems required by a certain teacher, and feeling that whenever I read one of these poems, I had fallen into her world (a kind of viewing the world and feelings about that world/view). Poetry creates worlds, too. Not with the versimilitude of classic modern fiction, but the expressive power of a poet makes real a world of moment and feeling.

Sorry for my fuzzy thinking. Sorry for my engrrish.

Yesterday, too, we got back the results of the little one's quarterly exams; she had passed everything, and  the results were good.

Today. Two new works to be workshopped at Butch Dalisay's class, both from winners of national writing prizes. :)

The story I worked on over the break was workshopped last week. BD was very supportive of the piece, and for that I am very very grateful. The text was inspired by Nick Joaquin's After the Picnic, in terms of story devices and themes.

"That's ambition," he said--which I took to mean, it's easier to fail when you are overtly dialoguing with the giants of Philippine literature.  I did intend to engage in a dialogue with NJ, but didn't think much of it that way, having approached the work as an exercise in exploring the possibilities of many points-of-view in one story (which worked splendidly in Joaquin's genius story, but which violated a cardinal rule in short-fiction writing). Besides, we are always talking with other writers/texts in our heads.

But he's right, of course--you reference NJ, try to make your text worthy of the source text.  And now that I've done my little exercise on POV (which some of my classmates seem to have appreciated too, thank you!), it's time to turn the text into a real story. There is a major revision I have to do regarding a character, and a slew of little ones to clarify the 'real story' under the surface story (Dillard, Lucero). This story layer isn't clear right now because my interpretation of the world needs to be clarified (haha--poetics has given me a language to talk about my 'own' writing).

The thing I love about this class is that BD seems like a very astute judge of character, in people, real and imagined. I'm afraid I don't have that quality in real life, and so perhaps that is why I am challenged writing the kind of fiction he is so gifted at creating. So much to learn from him, too.


  1. See, when you had mentioned the Nick Joaquin factor previously, I had already been interested. Now that I know it has to do with After the Picnic, I have to confess that I am, more than ever now, dying to read it.

  2. I love reading you, Tin. It feels like listening to you in person. :)

  3. Aww, thanks SHK and VM! Thanks for dropping by. Hopefully I get to revise this well. And then, will share. :)