Writing, Meditating, and Mummies

  Karloff and Johann in The Mummy

 

Throughout the process of writing a novel, a writer will inevitably reach points where they can not see in which direction the story should go; or, they do see- only they have no idea how the hell they’re going to get there.  Or, their characters remain aloof;  mere outlines rather than three-dimensional beings.

And the more one struggles to breakthrough, the more strongly the problem grips its claws.  Answers are much more likely to come while in a relaxed state of being.

In the biography The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell recalled a conversation she’d had with the authoress while staying at her home in Haworth.  “I asked whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, – vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, &c.  She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which she had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling asleep, – wondering what it was like or how it would be, – till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened.”

 Actress Zita Johann used a techinque which she called, “The Theater of the Spirit”, which could very well be used for writers.   Ms. Johann, mostly known for playing the dual role of the sophisticated Helen Gosvenor and her previous incarnation, The Princess Anck-es-en-Amon in the original The Mummy,   held a life-long interest in the occult.   As Spiritualists would call upon dearly departed ones, she would meditate and invoke her characters to reach a special depth of emotion.  Though the revered stage actress never truly made it big in Hollywood (largely due to her outspoken disdain of Tinseltown),  her hypnotic performance in the aforementioned film is unforgettable and gives a glimpse into why she was regarded as, “The White Flame of the American Theater”.

One of my favorite meditation methods when it comes to writing is to think intensely on the subject (or problem) at hand, and then completely let it go by meditating on something totally different: an image,  a mantra… Then, hours or days later- the answer pops into my mind as I’m in the twilight state between sleep and wakefulness; or, just as likely, when I’m doing something as mundane as the dishes.

Do you use meditation for your writing?

  Helen is hypnotized in The Mummy

 

   Helen remembers her life as the Princess

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Update: German book reading list

Just a quick note that my German book reading list page has been updated.

Published in: on February 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Wordsworth: “We Are Seven”

 William Wordsworth, English Romantic poet (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850)

In 1798, Wordsworth was staying with Samuel Coleridge at Alfoxden.  The two men had decided to publish a book of poetry together.  After Coleridge completed his Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Wordsworth was inspired to write a poem based on a young girl he had met during a walk six years prior:

A SIMPLE Child,
          That lightly draws its breath,
          And feels its life in every limb,
          What should it know of death?

          I met a little cottage Girl:
          She was eight years old, she said;
          Her hair was thick with many a curl
          That clustered round her head.

          She had a rustic, woodland air,
          And she was wildly clad:                                    10
          Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
          –Her beauty made me glad.

          “Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
          How many may you be?”
          “How many? Seven in all,” she said
          And wondering looked at me.

          “And where are they? I pray you tell.”
          She answered, “Seven are we;
          And two of us at Conway dwell,
          And two are gone to sea.                                    20

          “Two of us in the church-yard lie,
          My sister and my brother;
          And, in the church-yard cottage, I
          Dwell near them with my mother.”

          “You say that two at Conway dwell,
          And two are gone to sea,
          Yet ye are seven!–I pray you tell,
          Sweet Maid, how this may be.”

          Then did the little Maid reply,
          “Seven boys and girls are we;                               30
          Two of us in the church-yard lie,
          Beneath the church-yard tree.”

          “You run about, my little Maid,
          Your limbs they are alive;
          If two are in the church-yard laid,
          Then ye are only five.”

          “Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
          The little Maid replied,
          “Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
          And they are side by side.                                  40

          “My stockings there I often knit,
          My kerchief there I hem;
          And there upon the ground I sit,
          And sing a song to them.

          “And often after sunset, Sir,
          When it is light and fair,
          I take my little porringer,
          And eat my supper there.

          “The first that died was sister Jane;
          In bed she moaning lay,                                     50
          Till God released her of her pain;
          And then she went away.

          “So in the church-yard she was laid;
          And, when the grass was dry,
          Together round her grave we played,
          My brother John and I.

          “And when the ground was white with snow,
          And I could run and slide,
          My brother John was forced to go,
          And he lies by her side.”                                   60

          “How many are you, then,” said I,
          “If they two are in heaven?”
          Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
          “O Master! we are seven.”

          “But they are dead; those two are dead!
          Their spirits are in heaven!”
          ‘Twas throwing words away; for still
          The little Maid would have her will,
          And said, “Nay, we are seven!”
                                                              1798.

After reading the poems  Wordsworth had selected for the first edition of The Lyrical Ballads, friend James Tobin approved of them all except for, We are Seven.   He warned, “It will make you everlastingly ridiculous.”

Indeed, for many years critics faulted the poem.  One, because Wordsworth seemed to be in sympathy with the supernatural beliefs of the young girl rather than the rationalist views of the narrator; and secondly, because they claimed a little girl could  not possess the intellectual capability of expressing her views on death and the afterlife.

In the second edition of The Lyrical Ballads published in 1801, William Wordsworth included a preface in which he appealed for sincerity of language  over the  grandiose diction common in poetry at that time.

He stated,  “The principal object, then, which I proposed to myself in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men; and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement. incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.”

He continued, ” From such verses the  Poems in these volumes will be found distinguished at least by one mark of difference, that each of them bas a worthy purpose. Not that I mean to say, that I always  began to write with a distinct purpose formally conceived; but I believe that my habits of meditation have so formed my feelings, as that my descriptions of such  objects as strongly excite those feelings, will be found to carry along with them a purpose. If in this opinion I am mistaken, I can have little right to the name of a  Poet. For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: but though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached, were never produced  on any variety of subjects but by a man, who being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply.”

Perhaps stung by earlier criticism of his work, he also stated, “I have one request to make of my Reader, which is, that in judging these Poems he would decide by his own feelings genuinely, and not by reflection upon what will probably be the judgment of others. How common is it to hear a person say, “I myself do not object to this style of composition or this or that expression, but to such and such classes of people it will appear mean or ludicrous.” This mode of criticism, so destructive of all sound unadulterated judgment, is almost universal: I have therefore to request, that the Reader would abide independently by his own feelings, and that if he finds himself affected he would not suffer such conjectures to interfere with his pleasure.”

A Writer’s Mad Tea Party

“A bright idea came into Alice’s head. ‘Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?’ she asked.

‘Yes, that’s it,’ said the Hatter with a sigh: ‘it’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.'”- from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

If you could cordially invite six authors (3 males, 3 females- living or dead) to a tea party- who would they be?

Sitting around my checkered-clothed table, while  indulging in scones, clotted cream and jam, I would love to converse with the following:

1. Agatha Christie- Not only did she write over 80 novels and therein create the über-sharp Miss Marple and brilliant Hercule Poirot (Belgium.  Warning: Never call him French), but she was a nurse during the second World War, and later traveled around the world from England to Australia to Egypt.   The  true stories she could regale us with!

2.  Mark Twain-  Not only a great writer (Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer…), but witty as all hell.  I’d invite him just to hear him wax poetic on the German language:  http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/awfgrmlg.html

3.  Anne Bronte- Of course, a Bronte must be invited to my party.  Why not Emily or Charlotte?  Well, let’s face it.  Emily would just turn down the invitation, and spend the day roaming through her moors.   Charlotte would be fun, but she left us many letters.   Anne, however, has been quieted throughout the centuries.  But it’s obvious in her novels, Agnes Grey and Tenant of Wildfell Hall that she was very perceptive of human nature with much to say.   I’d want to meet the oft- forgotten sister.

4.   Edgar Allen Poe- To him recite The Raven, The Conqueror Worm, and Annabel Lee.  To listen to how he came up with his ideas for The Tell-tale Heart, Ligeia, and more.  And most of all, to let the man know who died penniless and alone,   how beloved and respected his work is today.

5.  Daphne Du Maurier-  When she wasn’t spinning  incredible gothic romance tales such as  Rebecca and Jamaicca Inn,  she was penning chilling tales such as The Birds and Don’t Look Now.    I’d love to hear her insights on plot and narrative structure.

6. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- Creator of  Sherlock Holmes.  That’s reason enough.   But he was also part of the 19th century Spiritualist movement and it would be so much fun to hear first hand accounts of seances he attended.

So, who is cordially invited to your tea party?