26 October 2011

Memory and Effigy

I recently read a draft of a poem that had the line "Why recently, I am so drawn to dilapidation."  

If you read my recent post, you will know that I most whole-heartedly agree with that statement!  Again and again, I am being drawn to images, places, and people that are past their prime.  Whether you want to call it dilapidation, beautiful ruin, or even something melodramatic like the gorgeous flaw, the fact remains that what is imperfect is far more interesting than something seamless and perfect.  Perfection has its place, perhaps with Plato or in heaven.  But here on earth, what garners my attention in writing are flawed characters, broken dreams, and the imperfect world of objects.

Who wants to read about St. Blandula's struggle-free life, where she was always immersed in the divine and never tempted?  Not me.

There is an impulse within all of us to look back at the past through rose colored glasses.  We call this nostalgia or the "good old days."  History shows us again and again, that people like to recall a semi-mythical past in which their culture was at its greatest.  The ancient Greeks (specifically Hesiod) called this their Golden Age, an age where men "lived with the gods without sorrow."  There is a reason that the good stories from Greek mythology come later, at a more flawed stage of mankind.  Where would our fairy tale princesses be without the long climb up to the castle throne?

So it is with each of us.  When we begin to write, we may want to edit out the very parts of our stories that make them the most compelling.  We might want to avoid the unpleasant or embarrassing aspects.  Or even believe that our memory is absolute fact.  That hazy world of the "good old days" beckons us, whispers in our ear to return, and ultimately to enter into an idealized, struggle free piece of writing.  We become the lotus eaters that Homer warned us about.  In other words, boring.

We, as writers, need to ask ourselves what we truly wish to show in our writing.

Miriam-Webster defines an effigy first as, "an image or representation, especially of a person" but then more interestingly as "a crude figure representing a hated person."  We immediately know what we are interested in hearing more about.  Give me enemies for $1000 please.

The word effigy comes from Middle French and Latin, meaning to form or to shape.  It has a connection to the word dough.  As a former baker, I know intimately, what it means to shape loaves for the rising and baking process.  So it is with writing.

As you begin drafting or revising your pieces, I encourage you to write straight at the heart of imperfection.  Dig deeper into the flaws of your characters and narratives.  Is is through these cracks and brokenness that our strongest stories find their way into the world.

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