Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Rock


By Kelli

If you were to write a non-fiction book, what would your topic be?

Like Sophie, CJ and Becky, I've done some hard time. You know, on the Rock. Not Alcatraz ... sorry, I may wear a fedora, but I'm not that old. No, The Rock is also known as the Island of Misfit Writers (with apologies to Rankin/Bass and Rudolph).


Y'see, we've got these monsters--er, creative energies--that live inside of us, and they just gotta come out. So we find ways ... from Sophie's fabric chickens and Oliver Wendell Holmes (hey--was he ever attacked by a fabric chicken? Did he ever defend a fabric chicken?) to Becky's tech writing, to CJ's medical reports. We spin out a word there, trot out a turn of phrase there, put a flourish on a song or tinker on the piano. 'Cause it's damn hard to squeeze in creativity when you're trying to squeeze out a living ... so you takes what you can get.

Me, I started out as a Drama major, and fully planned to do something creative with my life. Life left that career behind, and at one time about the only creative thing I was doing was writing sonnets and playing the harmonica. Not at the same time, though.

Eventually I wound up in solitary confinement on The Rock. A place called The Academy, where creativity can be a very dangerous occupation. Fortunately, I had some understanding people around me, and I got a chance to tinker with translations of ancient poetry ... won a couple of awards, and that helped give me enough confidence to think maybe I could write a novel. Did that in graduate school, and that's how NOX DORMIENDA was hatched. In between I studied a lot of history and what's called historiography, which is basically the history of history. I don't know what the history of historiography is called, but I'm sure there's a word for it ... there always is.

Anyway, I was published in a scholarly way before NOX. Not just my MA thesis, though that's part of the record, and if anyone is curious about the Orphic symbolism behind the character of Pentheus in Euripides' Bacchae, I'm sure it's not checked out. No, I was published in journals, too ... my most noteworthy article was about Wonder Woman and classical mythology. I turned down two other opportunities for such-type publication, 'cause I was working on this crazy idea for a novel.

Y' see, I discovered--after seven long years in solitary at the Rock's Academy--that history IS about fiction. History is opinion, history is a story, history is narrative, and no historian I have ever read--even the best, and I've been privileged to know a few personally--is entirely without bias. The old saw that history is written by the winners? Very true. One reason so little literature remains of female poets from ancient Greece ... but I digress.

So even when I was still on The Rock--still finishing up my degree--I didn't want to write history. History is Kurosawa's Rashomon -- a splintering of subjectivity that takes more ego and less sensitivity than any poor wannabe thriller writer could muster.

I wanted to write stories IN history ... to make history a part of our every day life, to make it personal and meaningful and human. As a scholar, I was also interested in cultural analysis, in interpreting why we do the crazy things we do. One of the publishing opportunities I turned away was based on a conference presentation I gave at the University of Melbourne that was founded on a simple (and geeky) question: Why was pop culture in the 70s so obsessed with the occult? Why couldn't superheroes escape the "Night Gallery" treatment?

[Slight explanation due: you'll notice comic books and superheroes are a common theme here. I've always been a comic book fan, used to own a shop, and am a pop culture fanatic ... in fact, I think popular culture is the surest way to understand any culture (including classical ones).]

So. To make a long and rambling story a little shorter: IF I were to write a non-fiction book, it would be a cultural analysis type thing. Probably about comic books and odd little cultural trends that puzzle me (my presentation ultimately covered American society's swing between science and occult from the 30s to the present).

That, and a guide to urban living I call Always Wait for the Second Bus.

But really ... all I wanna do is tell stories, and now that I've managed to swim off the Rock, I'm clutching my life preserver, and don't plan to ever let go.

Say, is that a fabric chicken floating by? ;)

17 comments:

Sophie Littlefield said...

omg, check this out: a writers retreat *on the rock*...we would row ourselves over there on monday, along with a cabana boy with a skiff full of victuals. All day long we would write in our dank stone cells, the only sound the echoing refrain of our teeth-gnashing up and down the cell block. In the evenings the cabana boy would slide trays of homemade macaroni and cheese and whiskey under the bars, and then serenade us with Chris Knight songs on his old acoustic guitar. Oh, we would get ever so much done until he rowed us back on Friday....what do you think? And I wonder who we should get for the job.

Kelli Stanley said...

You think maybe we can make it pizza instead of mac and cheese? And I'm thinkin' blues on that gee-tar, along with a harmonica. I'll bring mine. ;)

xoxo

Kelli

Jen Forbus said...

I'm oh so glad you all decided to be fiction writers!!

Sophie, I think you should check out what Johnny Depp's doing...seeing as he's just been re-named the sexiest man and all. After watching Chocolat, I'm sure he'd make a great cabana boy! Ha!

Kelli Stanley said...

Ah, Chocolat ... I love that movie!! Almost makes you forget about Johnny in Edward Scissorhands.

Thanks, Jen! Though I don't know if writing is as much a decision as an inevitability ... ;)

xoxo

Kelli

Shane Gericke said...

Oooh! Oooh! I'l be your cabana boy, you guys ... I can sing a mean blues n offer backrubs n drinks with parasols and other cabana boy stuff ... I'm already a 7, I'll fill out the application now ...

Shane Gericke said...

I meant that I'm a 7 as in 7CriminalMinds, not 7 on the hot scale, cause that would be, oh, 4 or so, I'm just sayin', and by that I mean "I'm just saying'" as Our Sophie would say, she wouldn't say 4, cause she's much too kind for that, and yes I DID have an extra pot of French Roast this morning why do you ask and, Oooh, look, a squirrel ...

Shane Gericke said...

By the by, Kelli, nice guy in the new photo!

Shane Gericke said...

Ooops, I meant, "gun," not guy, and I'm signing off now cause I gotta pack for Men of Mystery.

Jen Forbus said...

Oh but we don't want to forget about Johnny in SCISSORHANDS. Personally, he's a little skinny for my preferences, but he's brilliant on the big screen. AND he can sing. I was scared when I went to see SWEENEY TODD and they said he refused to take voice lessons, but man oh man!

And Shane, aren't you supposed to be writing, too? Maybe a cabana boy AND girl are needed? But for heavens sake, keep the coffee away from Shane when you go or he'll be climbing the walls in his cell, not writing!

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Hi Kelli!

So your question: "Why was pop culture in the 70s so obsessed with the occult? Why couldn't superheroes escape the "Night Gallery" treatment?"

The answer was the recession, right?
Well, I think of it as terrifying implosion from infrastructure neglect and recession, but I was little then.

Mysti

Kelli Stanley said...

Yay!! Shane will make a great cabana boy, and can even bring his own cigars. :) And if we put some rum in his coffee, he won't climb the walls, as Jen has reminded us. :)

Gee, Shane, was it the Wonder Woman quote that made you volunteer? ;)

xoxo

Kelli Stanley said...

And thanks, sweet Shane, for noticing the gun! It was a prop of the wonderful noir photographer who took my original author photos ... felt real while I was under the lights, though! ;)

Of course, the Maltese Falcon in the shots he took WAS real ... and mine, all mine! (bwahahahah ...)

xoxo

Kelli

Kelli Stanley said...

Jen, I'm with you. Johnny is incredibly talented and has a compelling charisma (particularly in Chocolat, my favorite movie of his). Sexiest man, though? I'd still elect Russell Crowe or Daniel Craig--throwbacks to the ol' tough guys days. :)

Of course, we know CJ would go for George Clooney! Actually, who wouldn't go for George Clooney? ;)

xoxo

Kelli

Kelli Stanley said...

Well, Myst, I think the recession definitely helped matters, but the bigger question I tried to address was the periodic cultural oscillation between extolling the virtues of rational science and then turning away from it and embracing the hope of the "irrational" supernatural.

I traced these swings back to the early twentieth century (though you could go back farther), and it seems to me that every time science/technology outpaces our culture's ability to intellectually or emotionally comprehend it, we run away. Science has been the great hope, and it's also been demonized and feared.

With the early to mid'70s phenomenon, we're also dealing with a huge core of cultural disillusionment, brought on by the Vietnam War, assassinations, and the civil strife of the late '60s. As in the period after WWI, we see an embrace of the irrational and supernatural, because science --identified with the status quo/paternalistic/cultural authority--led us into the mess.

Shows like Night Gallery, the Sixth Sense, and a ton of comic books, (from Weird War Tales on); movies like The Beguiled or Hang 'Em High, or Let's Scare Jessica to Death or Planet of the Apes; apocalyptic songs like In the Year 2525 ... the general pessimism and turn toward irrationality was just everywhere.

Of course, growing up in it made my generation kinda paranoid. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. ;)

Anyway, sorry for the long explanation ... the actual presentation was at a Superheroes conference at the University of Melbourne, so comic books were the main pop cultural medium I used to demonstrate the points.

xoxo

Kelli

PK the Bookeemonster said...

I'll swap you your thesis for mine about nonprofits and the internet. :)
And I would get to choose my own cabana boy? mmmmm ... Gerard Butler? Daniel Craig? Colin Firth? So many to choose from... Heck even seeing my husband wait on me hand and foot would be a treat or maybe just a fantasy.

Kelli Stanley said...

That's a deal, PK. :) I'd love to learn more about the Internet and non-profits ... sounds cool! :)

And I like all your picks for fantasy cabana boys, too ... I'd forgotten about Gerard. Something about those boys from Oz and New Zealand ... !

Almost makes Alcatraz worth it, hmm? ;)

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh my. colin firth as cabana boy. that has possibilities. but only if, when i ordered him around, he ignored me and instead compelled me to do naughty things in my cell and - oh darn, there went my focus