In which the Author bitches about writing
and ponders a dangerous flirtation with Boom . . .
There is only one good thing about small town
there is only one good use for a small town
there is only one good thing about small town
you know that you want to get out
When you're growing up in a small town
you know you'll grow down in a small town
there is only one good use for a small town
You hate it and you'll know you have to leave
--Lou Reed, "Small Town"
Train entering the city
I lost myself and never came back
Took a trip around the world and never came back
Black silhouettes, crisscrossed tracks, never came back
--Lou Reed, "Forever Changed"
A Note Regarding Weblog Reincarnation
If you're curious about what I'm doing back here, these are the tenuous explanations. But be forewarned--I still don't have a clue about the latest purpose of this blog. Not yet, anyway. The only certainty is that what I write here will be thoroughly Not Like My Book--although I suspect it may often be about my struggles with it.
William Gibson famously said that "The street finds a use for things." And similarly, I'll eventually understand what to do with CultureHack (Mark IV). I'm guessing we'll all find out what I'm up to at the same time, when whatever this site is supposed to do reaches critical mass and manifests. But in the meantime, I'm not worrying about it: After all, I always do my best work (and feel most comfortable) in interstitial spaces . . .
I'm just going to put it out there: The process of writing the book currently sucks. Oh, there's been a halcyon period, and before final revisions there may be some kind of Late Golden Era. But right now it's effing hard work, and it's been made even more difficult by the escalating requirements of the writing.
Here's the effing hard work part: I've just spent six days writing a sequence insert of 2,000 paltry words. And yes, it was worth it but that's not the point--as a writer I'm a marathoner, and single-digit daily page counts drive me crazy with frustration. As if this weren't enough, the latest of the escalating requirements is a killer: At this stage in the writing, I need to work in silence--the rhythm and sound of the sentences have become as important as images, word choice and structure. But also know this: Music is monumentally important to me--take it away and, well, I'm in a state too grim to describe.
The sheer suckage of the past week is best understood by putting all of this together: I've been averaging just over a page per day, surrounded by a silence so tomb-like the Dieter Rams desk clock sounds like the Cosmic Metronome of Doom. So yeah, lately writing the book in something like a state of auditory hyperesthesia has been very House of Usher.
Thus bashing out something that's so-not-the-book--even if it's blog-ish--is psychological balm, and not my attention wandering. I may not know exactly why I'm here, but this much is certain: It feels good not to slam into the manuscript. At least for a while.
I'm blasting Live a Little at concert volume level, with the other installments of the Pernice Brothers catalog neatly lined up waiting their turns. And given the recent Period of Great and Absolute Quiet, it's oddly consoling to see the bass lines rattle the window panes in their muntins.
Even better, there are no outlines, flow charts or research databases guiding these words--just a vague idea of a subject. Which, paradoxically, is directly connected to the interminable sequence insert from the past week. Proving, I suppose, that there's no insight without pain.
While putting final touches on a section where Tony visits Beatrice, I suddenly felt the need to add a flashback showing that Tony's childhood hometown is almost identical to where Beatrice is living. Though a structuralist, if I feel strongly about a divergence from the narrative plan, I usually follow the impulse and decide about its inclusion afterwards. In this instance, the insert worked quite well--but initially I couldn't articulate why.
At first it seemed a way to blunt Tony's savage assessments about Beatrice's town; a he's-actually-like-her interlude. But I don't believe that characters necessarily have to be likable or conventionally motivated--my only obligation is make them interesting. After more coffee and pondering, I suddenly had it: I'd intuitively emphasized that Tony had long ago moved on to more vital, open environments, while Beatrice has willing embraced the same small-town claustrophobia that had caused him to flee. The inclusion of the insert extended Tony judgments past the town to Beatrice herself. Which neatly made him even less likable and a bit more interesting.
That's how it worked, but it didn't explain why it was effective. So I kept analyzing: Tony and Beatrice regard her town in significantly different ways not because of Tony's past, but by the amount of distance he's placed between himself and small-town insularity. Tony has literally and figuratively moved while Beatrice has not. And there it was: parallax. I had allowed Borges' territory below the map to poke through. Which is as worrying as it is pleasing.
My unease is due the fact the novel has an underpark that functions in much the same way as the one at Disney World: Hidden things happen down there that make possible all manner of surface stuff. And just like at Walt's carefully designed and controlled fantasy, the book's underpark is strictly No Admittance. But with the insert, I had allowed part of the underpark's mechanics to be seen--at least by those readers with the right kind of eyes. The quandary it creates is whether an underpark mechanism--call it bit of the novel's intellectual infrastructure if you want--should be allowed to become a motif, and if so, under what circumstances? (To understand my caution here, see the previous post regarding screwing around with a book's nuclear fission control rods--especially this late in the game.)
A significant amount of parallax in all its varieties is found in the book's underpark. I know because I carefully put it there. It's the reason cameras, astronomy and mixing desk controls figure prominently in the novel. It also drives the metaphoric aspects of reexamined memories, informs the head/heart dichotomy of love in the narrative, is the reason for the discontinuity between Beatrice's profile and full face, and provides the foundation for a subplot focusing on Tony's struggle to remix his final collection of songs.
From a certain vantage (which ironically means this whole paragraph itself is an example of parallax) the concept illuminates a good deal of the novel (though I'd definitely stop short of saying it's an explanation). On one level, the book is the story of emotional parallax in all sorts of ways--some far less obvious than others. Perhaps that's why up to now it's remained in the underpark: As a perspective, it's compelling enough to be seen as the sole answer in a book that offers many theories about what occurs.
To understand the concept of a narrative underpark, try this admittedly whacked analogy: In the book, parallax is like the Unix kernel that underlies the Mac operating system--it's responsible for all manner of mission-critical operations even as it's presence is belied by the seductively simple user interface. You could use a Mac all your life and never be aware of the Unix perking just below its surface, much less use the carefully hidden away command-line terminal. Parallax is is pretty much the OS kernel of the novel, transparently supporting the user interface most often called plot.
An intriguing thing about parallax is that in most instances it's dependent on a moving observer. Stasis eliminates it--even parallax error relating to analog instrument gauges. Let's say you view an old-school fuel gauge from an angle that prevents a true reading. If you never change your position, the gauge's usefulness rebuilds--you merely recalibrate your perceptions of what Full and Empty look like. Here's another instance inspired by my time in Brazil: Imagine being in the lower hemisphere and describing the Southern Cross to someone who's never left North America. Without knowledge of parallax, the root-bound North American might consider you mad for seeing a constellation that's not there. The unchanging vantage point, the only one known, has become the de facto reality. Except it isn't.
Another peculiarly resonant aspect of parallax is that the “error” it introduces is open-ended. Consider the parallax error in a camera with separate viewfinder. Where exactly is the discrepancy? Is it in the viewer image or what the lens captures? The disagreement, while vexing, doesn't favor one part over the other. Saying that the lens should register what the viewer frames is no more right (or wrong) than maintaining the viewer should reflect the image that's in the lens.
And finally, the permanent parallax of human eyesight makes three-dimensional vision possible. Here steady-state skew is essential. There's distinct benefit in biology's bilateral symmetry and the integration of parallax error: The world becomes a more amazing (and perhaps more safely navigated) place. In short, parallax makes us see better--and on a metaphoric level, a writer's gotta love that.
So yeah, you might say parallax is part of the foundation of my book; there's echoes of it throughout the story. But here's the thing: It was intended only as an echo. In the book, it currently functions like the non-photo-blue grid on publication layout sheets of the last century: It allows for alignment while remaining invisible. The problem is that my hard-to-write insert is quite good in ways I hadn't anticipated. And now I need to decide whether to promote parallax from a gear in the infrastructure to something more apparent.
But I'm not sure I want an all-singing, all-dancing Parallax Moment; a piece of grinding Ah-Ha exposition like that last, unfortunate reel of There Will Be Blood. I don't think I want to give Tony a parallax milkshake, much less have him drink it up while playing to the back row. As Paul Thomas Anderson discovered, the risk of aspiring to preening cleverness is the possibility of flat-footed obviousness. (Or, put another way, "Oops, this fission control rod just fell out, and it probably should be put . . ." BOOM!) Needless to say, I have to think about this.
Maybe it's best to keep in mind the lesson of my favorite film: Hitchcock's Vertigo is an almost perfect picture briefly ruined by the line "Judy, please, it can't matter to you"--where you can hear the shockingly loud sound of the movie's underpark tearing through its narrative surface. This in a film that features the snarled "You shouldn't have been that sentimental," one of Hollywood's most devastating and subtly double-edged epiphanies. ("Mr Hitchcock, if there are control rods in this reactor, then perhaps they shouldn't be . . ." BOOM!)
So yeah, more musing is indicated. But every good solution stems from a clear statement of the problem, and letting my fingers fly here has gone a long way to articulating the underpark quandary. Which means that--so far--interleaving blogging with the book is working: I've had a much-needed time-out from the actual writing of the thing while at the same time the weblog-as-white-board approach has pushed the project forward. Explaining something necessitates an understanding what's being conveyed, even if that comprehension occurs on the fly.
And now back to it; there's a lot more heavy narrative lifting to do. Catch you at the next break . . .