Friday, September 30, 2011

Savouring 'The Good Short Life'.

 Please read this only after you go through Adarsh's post 'The Good Short Life.'

Thank you Adarsh for sharing that wonderful homage to life and its meaning. Let us read it again to see the nuts turning inside the great writing which touches our hearts.

“We need to go buy you a pistol, don’t we?” he asked quietly. He meant to shoot myself with.

“Yes, Sweet Thing,” I said, with a smile. “We do.” 
(See. A conversation always puts you in a place. We want to overhear).

The nerves and muscles pulse and twitch, and progressively, they die. (The action and the sudden crisp death).

From the outside, it looks like the ripple of piano keys in the muscles under my skin. From the inside, it feels like anxious butterflies, trying to get out. (Metaphors take you a long way. They are the ladders in 'Snake and Ladder' game, that's another metaphor)

But it’s hard to smile, and chew. I’m short of breath. I choke a lot. I sound like a wheezy, lisping drunk. For a recovering alcoholic, it’s really annoying. (When emotions run high, people use short sentences. We get choked as we get caught in a deluge of them).

If I let this run the whole course, with all the human, medical, technological and loving support I will start to need just months from now, it will leave me, in 5 or 8 or 12 or more years, a conscious but motionless, mute, withered, incontinent mummy of my former self. Maintained by feeding and waste tubes, breathing and suctioning machines.  (Look at the series...your article must contain at least one series. It has the effect of a drum roll. And see the role of a fragment sentence at the end. It works whenever there are things go out of balance)

When the neurologist gave me the diagnosis that November, he shook my hand with a cracked smile and released me to the chill, empty gray parking lot below. (At the turning point, the writer jump-starts our senses. Chill(tactile). Gray(Colour). And a specific place- The parking lot. Suddenly the spectacle pops into life).

It was twilight. He had confirmed what I had suspected through six months of tests by other specialists looking for other explanations. But suspicion and certainty are two different things. Standing there, it suddenly hit me that I was going to die.(Understand the implication of twilight. It is half here and half there. It reflects the moment described).

I had a dinner scheduled in Washington that night with an old friend, a scholar and author who was feeling depressed. We’d been talking about him a lot. Fair enough. Tonight, I’d up the ante. We’d talk about Lou. (Using humour at a pathetic situation can deepen the melancholy the reader is going through. And I believe that the phrase, 'to up the ante' was once formed just to be used in this article. So apt. So touching)

The next morning, I realized I did have a way of life. For 22 years, I have been going to therapists and 12-step meetings. They helped me deal with being alcoholic and gay. They taught me how to be sober and sane. They taught me that I could be myself, but that life wasn’t just about me. They taught me how to be a father. And perhaps most important, they taught me that I can do anything, one day at a time.

Including this.
(Repeating the word taught. Music. Monotony in learning. And see the short sentence single para at the end).

She was being bathed and diapered and dressed and fed, and for the last several years, she looked at me, her only son, as she might have at a passing cloud. (no comments).

I have a plan. If I get pneumonia, I’ll let it snuff me out. If not, there are those other ways. I just have to act while my hands still work: the gun, narcotics, sharp blades, a plastic bag, a fast car, over-the-counter drugs, oleander tea (the polite Southern way), carbon monoxide, even helium. That would give me a really funny voice at the end. (Using another series of specific things. And at the end again humour at a sad situation).

The song that transfixed me, words and music, was “Dance Me to the End of Love.” That’s the way I feel about this time. I’m dancing, spinning around, happy in the last rhythms of the life I love. When the music stops — when I can’t tie my bow tie, tell a funny story, walk my dog, talk with Whitney, kiss someone special, or tap out lines like this — I’ll know that Life is over. (I wish, the writer had stopped here, but he continues.)

It’s time to be gone.

Language as a lens

"The writer can zoom up on any part of the picture that is already framed by the original sentence. In the following example, that means zooming up on either the container or the palm.

For instance, assume the branches of the palm are the detail of interest. Without any word of transition, only a twist of zoom lens represented by the comma, the sentence can now read: "The rhapis palm sat in a large, white container, the branches stretching into the air". The writer can place a comma after air and zoom up something framed in this part of the sentence. This time the zoom can only be on the branches of air bcause the "camera" has focused on them, cutting the general description of the palm and container out of the picture.

Suppose there is nothing of interest about the air, but the branches have interesting joiunts or nodes. Zooming in on those, the sentences would now read: "The rhapis palm sat in a large, white container, the branches stretching into the air, fibrous joints knuckling the otherwise smooth surface.""

                                                                                - Writeful (Gary Hoffman)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Good Short Life

A Simple, elegant piece.

I HAVE wonderful friends. In this last year, one took me to Istanbul. One gave me a box of hand-crafted chocolates. Fifteen of them held two rousing, pre-posthumous wakes for me. Several wrote large checks. Two sent me a boxed set of all the Bach sacred cantatas. And one, from Texas, put a hand on my thinning shoulder, and appeared to study the ground where we were standing. He had flown in to see me.
“We need to go buy you a pistol, don’t we?” he asked quietly. He meant to shoot myself with.
“Yes, Sweet Thing,” I said, with a smile. “We do.”
I loved him for that.

I love them all. I am acutely lucky in my family and friends, and in my daughter, my work and my life. But I have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., more kindly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the great Yankee hitter and first baseman who was told he had it in 1939, accepted the verdict with such famous grace, and died less than two years later. He was almost 38.
Read the story:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Taste

Like smell, taste conjures up memory. Read Marcel Proust. His descriptions are evocative.
He gives us a taste of a tea cake made in a remote village. "With the first taste, the village rose up like a stage set” in his mind. See the mixing of Visual+gustatory. He borrows qualities from other senses.

 Proust says about 'Madelaines', tea cakes,  From the sense of sight he borrows colour and shape "squat and plump" shaped like "the fluted valve of a scallop shell", "which is  richly sensual under its severe, religious fold". From the sense of smell he borrows “a decoction of lime blossom.” And borrowing from the sense of touch to describe the madelines soaked in tea, he writes that when “ the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate…a shudder ran through me.” If the madelines had been crunchy Proust might have included their crispy snap; had they been spicy, he might have described the degree of heat or discomfort the spiciness might induced, perhaps a tingling sensation at the edges of his lips.

Another of Proust’s techniques is to set the scene in which the cakes were consumed,  a childhood scene the narrator is recounting. Memory mixed with the present taste makes it more appealing. So the next time you go to a sea side restaurant and have food, can you say "it tastes of the ocean?"

The Sound

Mary Hood’s ‘How far he went’.

Early on in the story, the grandmother hears at a distance “the pulpwood cutters sawing through another acre across the lake. Nearer, there was a racket of motorcycles laboring cross-country, insect-like, distracting.” Later in the story, after discovering – they hear “the glissando of locusts, the dry crunch of boots in the flinty beach, their low man-talk drifting…” After several terrifying hours one bike starter up, the other “ratcheted, ratcheted, then coughed, caught, roared.” Finally when the motor cycles were gone, “crickets resumed, a near frog bic-bic-bicked.”

“Dry crunch” (not loud, harsh, high-pitched) – the writer employs an adjective not usually associated with the sense of sound. (Keep list of your favourite sound words). There is no word 'bic-bic-bicked' in dictionary. But he has created the effect

The Touch

“Next day Madame brushed my hair like Momma  does at home. There is real surrender in letting my head be tugged by a rattail comb in someone else’s hands. First she parts, scoring my skull like a map, separating strands into smooth threads. Little teeth nip hair by hair out of tangles and the preliminary comb is ritual before the hair brush. That begins with bristles skimming like sea urchins down the contours of my head. Madame lifts the brush quickly off to make my hair fly, like a held music phrase; each strand slips back like a whispered note. With my eyes closed, I pretend I am underwater, head bumping, and sand scratches my scalp, currents tug me like seaweed ropes; I shiver. Bristles quiver near my ear, tiny nylon nails.

“You cold?”
“No I’m fine. Makes me shiver.””

(She accurately names the objects of the story’s world: rattail comb, little teeth, bristles, strand, tiny nylon nails. Then she describes the act patiently. The hair isn’t merely brushed and combed; it is tugged, parted, scored, separated, nipped, untangled, lifted. Each step matters)

The Smell

“Both men were smoking; the air held it low because the kitchen was steamy from cooking and the storm windows sealed us in, the smoke blending with the milk smell of the room, the room soured every inch by milk slopped and stirred, churned and set by, year after year, may be seventy of them passed together.”

Very few words are out there to describe a smell. What is the solution? How can you touch the sense? Some writers find a way out through giving their readers a cocktail of senses. A room stuffed with milk smell (for the last seventy years), smoke and cooking can easily be imagined. Some other writers try to mute other senses to accentuate the sense of smell. When the character moves through darkness, the reader also try to grope things in the darkness, heightening his sense of smell. See this:

“Hand-in-hand we climbed the dark stairs, knocked on the doors. I shivered, held Grandma tighter, remember still the smell which was curiously fragrant, a sweet soup of talcum powder, folded curtains, roses pressed in a book. Was that what years smelled like?”

The Sight

“Flour swirled in a slant of light and lined the creases of the baker’s neck, salting his hair. He doused the work table with flour and kneaded the dough until it felt soft as an ear lobe, then cut pieces of the mass and balanced them on the enamel scale. He flattened the pieces with the palm of his hand to make thin disks, which he slipped into the oven. In the intense heart of the fires the loaves puffed up, hollow in the center. Once out of the ovens they collapsed as they cooled, and he wrapped the bread in towels or muslin to keep it soft enough to fold around an olive or fresh cheese or a slice of cooked lamb.”

About a baker.

The senses

Now I am going to give you five passages penned by famous writers touching different senses. Read them carefully and master the trick.

Keats, the master

St. Agnes' Eve - Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith. 

Learn from John Keats how to convey images. You can feel the cold from those visuals- an owl, inspite of its feathers. the hare limping through the frozen grass. But the prize goes to the image of the beadsman's frozen breath going towards heaven and his 'numb fingers'. Writers, learn from poets and lyricists the way of evoking a visual with words.

Play with verbs

 “When she cooked the entire kitchen was galvanized by the strength she put into it; the dishes, pans, knives, everything bore the brunt of her strength…The fruit was stabbed, assassinated, the lettuce was murdered with a machete.” 

Look at this. The fruit getting stabbed, assassinated, the lettuce murdered.... Those are not the proper verbs needed there in the strictest sense. But now these  hot, frenzied, perverted verbs show the hyperactive character behind ir. It opens a door to the mind of the character. It shows her grit. Look at the verb 'galvanised'. I think that word is from the world of science. The whole meaning changes when you pick a word from a different register to illuminate a point.

Killer verbs

“Bond climbed the few stairs and unlocked his door and locked and bolted it behind him. Moonlight filtered through the curtains. He walked across and turned on the pink shaded lights on the dressing table. He stripped off his clothes and went into the bathroom and stood for a few minutes under the shower…He cleaned his teeth and gargled with a sharp mouthwash to get rid of the taste of the day and turned off the bathroom light and went back into the bedroom…

Bond gave a shuddering yawn. He let the curtains drop back into place. He bent to switch off the lights on the dressing-table. Suddenly he switched stiffened and his heart missed a beat.

There had been a nervous giggle from the shadows at the back of the room. A girl’s voice said, “Poor Mister Bond. You must be tired. Come to bed.”

(The one time, the simple past gives way to a perfect tense, was when Bond lost his control. He was suddenly made the object by the presence of that girl and hence the tense shift)

Verbs carry the action. Question every adverb. “She ate her soup noisily”. Or, "She slurped her soup"?

The importance of nouns

“The owners had felled big-leaf maple, Douglas fir, Lombardy poplar, red cedar, that black locust and a little cherry. I cut about three cords of locust, maple and cherry, using my truck like a tractor to skid the big logs free of one another and swamping them out with a limbing ax and a bow saw.”

Look at this piece. Why is it special? The writer has taken pains to get the proper nouns of all the trees and tools he has to use in this writing. when we read such piece we feel safe in the writer's hands. He knows the stuff, he deals with. So next time you write get those names right and give a good journey for your readers. Many famous writers make a word list(terminology) of a particular genre before they get down to write about that subject. 

So here is the question: What is the English name for that particular tool we use in our backyard, called 'manvetti'? (Mal)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Miss All

hey where is everyone??
all has been taken away by onam??
lolz its boring out here without anyone...
hope the college reopens!!