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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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?

In Memory of Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte (July 30, 1818- December 19, 1848)

Charlotte Bronte in a letter to Ellen Nussey dated October 29, 1848 : “It is useless to question her (Emily); you get no answers.  It is still more useless to recommend remedies; they are never adopted.”

Charlotte to William Smith Williams on November 2nd: “She is a real stoic in illness, she neither seeks nor will accept sympathy.  To put any question, to offer any aid, is to annoy; she will not yield a step before pain or sickness till forced; not one of her ordinary avocations will she voluntarily renounce.  You must look on and see her do what she is unfit to do, and not dare to say a word.”

Charlotte ( in a  forward to Wuthering Heights entitled, ” Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell”) : My sister Emily first declined. The details of her illness are deep-branded in my memory, but to dwell on them, either in thought or narrative, is not in my power. Never in all her life had she lingered over any task that lay before her, and she did not linger now. She sank rapidly. She made haste to leave us. Yet, while physically she perished, mentally she grew stronger than we had yet known her. Day by day, when I saw with what a front she met suffering, I looked on her with an anguish of wonder and love. I have seen nothing like it; but, indeed, I have never seen her parallel in anything. Stronger than a man, simpler than a child, her nature stood alone. The awful point was, that while full of ruth for others, on herself she had no pity; the spirit was inexorable to the flesh; from the trembling hand, the unnerved limbs, the faded eyes, the same service was exacted as they had rendered in health. To stand by and witness this, and not dare to remonstrate, was a pain no words can render.”

Emily Bronte’s final poem:

 NO coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
    I see Heaven’s glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

    O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
    Life—that in me has rest,
As I—undying Life—have power in Thee!

    Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts: unutterably vain;
    Worthless as wither’d weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

    To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
    So surely anchor’d on
The steadfast rock of immortality.

    With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
    Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

    Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes cease to be,
    And Thou were left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

    There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
    Thou—Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Published in: on December 19, 2009 at 7:47 pm  Comments (6)  
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Anne Bronte: The Courageous Sister

Those born on the the seventeenth of any month are said to be strong in spirit throughout the difficulties of life.

Anne Bronte was born on January 17, 1820, the youngest surviving child of the family.   One day, her older sister, Charlotte, watched over Anne’s wooden crib.  She cried out to her father to come, for she had seen an angel hovering over Anne.

This angelic image still lingers over Anne Bronte.  She has long been thought of as the “sweet, shy” sister.  The sister that would be all but forgotten if not for her surname.

As is often the case, Anne’s gentleness  was mistaken for weakness.  Anne’s sweet smile belied a will of iron.

By the age of  five she’d lost her mother and her two eldest sisters.  The remaining siblings: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne formed an  enduring bond.  Encouraged by their father, they read voraciously and created their own magical worlds which they set down on paper.  While Charlotte and Branwell continued working on Angria,  Emily and Anne branched off with their own  kingdom of Gondal which was inspired by tales from Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott.

Charlotte’s best friend, Ellen Nussey, noted Anne and Emily were, “like twins, inseparable companions in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”  Indeed, it was only to Anne that the reclusive Emily ever opened up.

Deeply religious and ambitious, Anne was determined from an early age to succeed at all she set out to do.   While all of her siblings had failed at their career attempts away from home, Anne used her faith to survive her two tenures as a governess.   First, at the age of eighteen, for the Inghams of Blake Hall, Mirfield; and later with the Robinson family of Thorp Green.  Governesses were not only paid less than the general servant or lady’s maid, but they found themselves in very lonely situations.  They were not part of the family and the other servants usually shunned them.

Anne depicted these experiences as a governess in Agnes Grey.   Written in a simple, down-to-earth style, it was deeply overshadowed by Charlotte’s Jane Eyre.   In 1848, The Atlas critiqued, “Perhaps we shall best describe it as a coarse imitation of one of Miss Austen’s charming stories.”  Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Paper, while dismissing  the character Agnes as being inferior to Jane, did commend the authoress on her extraordinary powers of observation.

Anne used these powers on her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.   Inspired by the horrors she’d witnessed of  Branwell’s addiction  to liquor and drugs, she wrote an unflinching account on alcoholism.   The general public and reviewers were outraged at the story of a woman who “steals” her child,  runs away from her alcoholic  husband, and finds love with another man while in hiding.   Realistic, sharp, and unsentimental, the novel was years before its time.  

It  proved as controversial as Emily’s, Wuthering Heights.

Anne was branded immoral.   Undaunted,  she set out to write a third novel.    However,  in September of 1848, Branwell died after years of alcohol abuse.   Only three months later, Anne’s beloved companion, Emily, succumbed to tuberculosis.

One year later, Anne was diagnosed with the same disease.    She begged Charlotte to bring her to Scarborough (a seaside resort that Anne had first visited with the Robinsons).  Anne always loved the sea and hoped for its curative powers.   Charlotte and her father eschewed the idea for Anne was barely able to walk by now.

Seeking support for her plan, Anne wrote to Ellen Nussey: “I have a more serious reason than this for my impatience of delay: the doctors say that change of air or removal to a better climate would hardly ever fail of success in consumptive cases if taken in time, but the reason why there are so many disappointments is, that it is generally deferred till it is too late. Now I would not commit this error; and to say the truth, though I suffer much less from pain and fever than I did when you were with us, I am decidedly weaker and very much thinner my cough still troubles me a good deal, especially in the night, and, what seems worse than all, I am subject to great shortness of breath on going up stairs or any slight exertion. Under these circumstances I think there is no time to be lost… I have no horror of death: if I thought it inevitable I think I could quietly resign myself to the prospect… But I wish it would please God to spare me not only for Papa’s and Charlotte’s sakes, but because I long to do some good in the world before I leave it. I have many schemes in my head for future practisehumble and limited indeedbut still I should not like them all to come to nothing, and myself to have lived to so little purpose. But God’s will be done.”

Anne and Charlotte set off for Scarborough on May 24, 1849.   Anne spent her final days enjoying the horizons of her beloved sea.

Anne Bronte died on May 28, 1849.   Her last words to Charlotte were, “take courage.”

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