The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, May 29, 2006

I, Veronica; I, Betty; I, Jughead

by Andrew Tibbetts

Before I switched to writing fiction I composed music. Creativity's creativity, right? Same current, different channel? I wish. This weekend, meaning to finish a short story, I composed an octet. In comparison to the constipated non-flow of sentences I've been squeezing against all month, the notes poured out in a joyful rush: a ripple of congas, a flurry of clarinet and muted trumpet, a battery of piano thumps- breath in, breath out a deranged samba. Why is it so hard for me to achieve a similar 'flow' in my literary brain?

Psychologist Howard Gardner suggests the mind is a collection of intelligences, not a homogenous entity. He'd have no trouble with my facility in one field and awkwardness in another. And he didn't have to see me square dance in grade six gym class! Eventually Mrs. Cummings sent me to the bench. Benched! While square-dancing! I was allemandeing left when everyone else was allemandeing right, dosadoing in when everyone else was dosadoing out, slightly behind, suddenly ahead, often on my partner’s toes, often stopped dead with my mouth sagging open. My kinetic brain is a moron. I'm good at chewing. Anything else is a challenge.

My literary brain isn't a moron, but she's fickle, coy. She plays with me, starting up without warning and dropping off just as suddenly. She leaves the dance-floor mid-tango, demanding to be fed grapes. Or she wants to fox-trot in the middle of the workday. When the spotlight hits, she refuses to spin like we'd practiced. But in the secret center of a lonely night, she Pavlovas up a dying swan, wrenching beauty and meaning from all-too-ordinary despair.

In contrast, my musical brain is a cheerful dependable girl-next-door, on her way to being a happy housewife. When I pull up my music writing program she sings whatever needs singing. If I want seven and a half bars of Picassoish ragtime, she whips it up. If I say, No! For tuba and in gypsy-minor! She transforms it with a wave of her duster. If I ask her to thread in a slowed down version of an earlier theme, she picks up her needle and does it. She never seems to think. There's no anxiety to her at all. Is she any good? Most of the time, I don't think so. I'll whip up a piano concerto in a week and hardly ever listen to it again. When I do go back to it- it always sounds pretty good. But it doesn't stay in my mind. I guess I take her for granted. But she never cares. She doesn’t seem to want anything of me. And I enjoy her company, when I’m in it. But I desert her in a thirty-second note when the words call.

Literature! Why do I value this undependable and demanding- I'll say it!- bitch? Unlike the forgotten symphonies, I don't forget a single turn of phrase she ever deems to grace me with. Is it because she treats me so badly? Because I have so little control over her? Because I've had to learn patience and faith? Because she isn't a bitch at all, really, I realize when she turns to look me full in the eye. She knows my heart. We are learning to speak each other's language and its worth all the effort.

This little blog-post she’s tossed my way- it’s pretty awkward, eh? The music and the dancing and the writing and the sewing- the metaphors are all over the place. There’s something of the square-dancing fool in her today. But at least she’s on the floor. Thank you. Thank you, word-muse. I grovel at your rarely-sighted gams. I trot in your wake, cleaning up. After you leave, I’ll re-order the sentences, toss out the dull words, cut, cut, cut, and try to bring unity and order and delight. You make me work, you do! I’d hate you if I didn’t love you with every fibre of my being.

In the Riverdale of my head, these wholly separate personalities interact, with me and with each other. And despite all the times it doesn't click, its fun being me. But now I'm starving. Forget the art, I'm going for a burger. Perhaps she’ll join me, and as I chew the key to the short story I’ve felt locked out of all month will drop in my lap. I, everhopeful and pathetic sap.


Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Beautifully written, Andrew! You've expressed yourself so well. Have a good week... sounds like it'll be a creative one.

Mon May 29, 08:29:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

Yes, gorgeous writing with the undertone of humour that I really love. Great comparisons, I can picture my own brain swimming around the dance floor looking for a partner.

Never could figure out how to square dance - the phrase brings up shivers of awkwardness.

Mon May 29, 10:07:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Oh the elusive Veronica, she will never steer you wrong. I enjoyed this very much Andrew!

Mon May 29, 11:07:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Andrew, your 'awkward' is quite swellegant (How did Porter spell that word?). This made me laugh, and I concur, switching genres is like dosadoing while gearing down on a bicycle built for two. (Well, except your 'mixed metaphors' work...) Great post, AT!

Mon May 29, 12:12:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

I love this!!! I sooo love it, it is like music Andrew!! It's magical, sooo many gems in this. I love your muse too..xoxo

Tue May 30, 01:45:00 am GMT-4  
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