Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I have just finished reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I didn't read it in school - my school made us read 'modern literacy'. I wish we had read more true classics. This piece of writing really is brilliant. It's incredibly unique.
   I think the TV show MASH! is based on this book, although based on the wrong war. It has the same warped sense of humour. It's the ironic and bitter kind of of a man that has served in an ineffectual army with superiors that should never have been promoted.
   The bitter humour does very well to alleviate some of the horror depicted throughout the story. A young boy getting cut in half by a show-off pilot, then that pilot killing himself by flying the plane into a hill; a man mistakenly thought dead, who couldn't stop the paperwork and then his family believing he was really dead; and the police brutality and senseless killing. The stupidity of the superior officers, the games they play, and the mindless decisions they make that result in many deaths. Sometimes humour is 

the only way that we can face the ugly truth. Maybe it's how Joseph Heller could cope with it without going crazy like his characters.
   Yossarian is the main character. He's an anti-hero. He's unlikeable, difficult, crazy, and you never get a really good sense of who he is. One moment he's moral, the next moment he's an anarchist. One moment he's a breaking up fights, the next moment he's causing them. One moment he's falling in love, the next moment he's hurting people and planning to kill them. Despite all this, he still attracts a small loyal group of other officers, and you do start to find yourself empathising with him.
   The few female characters in the book are either used for sex by the officers, or they are whores seeking officers out. They are trying to survive in the ways they know how, in a country that has been under a dictatorship for years and who have just been liberated. Other than the American army men, there are no healthy young men left, and there seem to be few jobs and lots of orphans. The Italy portrayed by Joseph Heller was not healthy at the end of WWII.
   It's a difficult book to read. The first half of the novel doesn't move forward in time - it keeps circling back on itself and twisting story lines, linking various characters. There are lots of character, but each are so unique that it's not hard to keep track of who's who. Joseph Heller does not portray his characters nicely, nor are they handsome or particularly talented. They all have a lot of issues, increased by the war,  but most were already neurotic and selfish.
   Catch-22 is some made up policy that the officials use to justify their decisions. 'They have the right to do anything that we can't stop them from doing', and you can't get out of the army for being crazy because by wanting to get out the the army you prove that you're sane.
   Everyone should read this.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Five Second Shortcut to Writing in the Lyric Register

The writing exercise that I took on this week was one suggested by Steve Almond. He suggests that many young writers believe that if they throw enough beauty at the page, the results will be truth. In fact, he says, just the opposite is true. The effort to express complex emotional truths with precision is what leads language to rise into beauty. Steve goes on to say that writers need to slow down when their emotions are running their highest.
   The exercise is to write a scene that captures an intense moment in your life. The bulk of the scene must be no longer than 5 seconds in real time. Rather than moving the action forward, the aim is to concentrate on slowing down and moving inward.
   I chose to write about my first kiss. This is not really the most emotional piece ... almost comical. Here it goes:

His thigh was pressed against mine. He was so close. I hoped he wouldn't feel me shaking. I was shaking all over - involuntary muscle spasms, like I was shivering. But the air was so hot that my skin was covered in a fine film of sweat - or was that from nerves as well? I placed my sweaty palm flat on the concrete floor, trying to cool my body down through my hand. In doing so, I also lean closer to him, seemingly casually.
   We were supposed to be a couple. Thirteen years old, and not having spoken much to each other before, our friends all decided that we were supposed to be an item. He was shorter than me, slightly fat around the waist, albino looking, and for some reason, quite popular.
   Maybe he thought that I was quivering with desire, and that I was panting with lust. But it was the complete opposite. My breath was coming in short, sharp gasps, none of which brought the air to my lungs. I was gulping air, and in my mind I was puffing up like a balloon: ready to burst.
   It came so suddenly. I wasn't even looking at him - I was fixated on my best friend engaged in a passionate kiss across the room with another boy. Somehow his face is suddenly on mine: his lips are suddenly all over my mouth. My eyes stay open and I see his ice-blue irises looking straight back at me. This embarrasses me, that I'm caught with my eyes open (aren't you supposed to kiss with your eyes closed, like in the movies?), but I'm too shocked to close my eyes.
   There is a fat tongue in my mouth, and so much saliva. It is forcing itself in and out through my lips, filling my mouth with fluid. It tastes like vegemite toast. His cheeks seem to puff in and out, like a fish.
   This must be the worst kiss in the world, I thought at the time. I don't think I helped make it any better. I was so shocked, I'm not sure I did anything in response to the sucking fish on my face. I probably just hung my mouth open, and stiffened my tongue, trying to force his out.
   I was instantly disgusted. There was no rising desire, which I have felt with many subsequent kisses with other people. There was no touching, other than than the sucker fish on my lips. There was nothing but vegemite saliva.
   I kept my eyes open the whole time, not engaging in the kiss, just a passive receiver. All I could see was the ice-blue eyes staring straight at me, which I started to feel was a very aggressive stare. The false confidence of a boy who had been told in the past that he was a good kisser.
   I'm not sure if it was as bad for him as it was for me, because he broke away and gave me a dopey smile. I don't know what my face showed in response to that dopey smile (shock, disgust, amusement?), but he must have got the hint that I never wanted that kiss repeated. Because after I struggled up from the concrete floor, trying to keep my mini skirt as far down my legs as possible, he never tried to speak to me again!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The White Queen

I really like Philippa Gregory's style. She makes these historical women in to powerful, present and unforgettable characters.
   I recently finished reading 'The White Queen', which is the first in the series that Philippa is currently writing on the Plantagenant line of the English royal family. The next book is 'The Red Queen', which I have bought and the book is sitting in my shelf to read soon.
   Since I didn't learn much history in school (history is virtually non-existent in Australian schools these days), I absorb as many historical novels as I can. Even if they are just broadly based around an historical theme, I feel like I'm learning something, and I'm gradually piecing history together through the various novels that I have read based on various times and countries.

   This was a true love story. Elizabeth Woodville was an older widow with no fortune or connections to benefit the new, young king Edward. The marriage must have been for love: what else? Edward defied his advisors, and ultimately plunged the country into years of war, because he wanted to marry Elizabeth. Edward didn't have to honour their secret marriage, because there were no proper witnesses for a royal wedding. But he did. In this story, Edward is portrayed as a very honourable man (except for the fact that he had high sexual needs and slept with lots of other women).
   I don't think Elizabeth was very adept at the political game. She was a generous women to those she liked. She didn't try to foster relationships and alliances that may have assisted her. She didn't seem to do anything for the people of England, except parade around and show off their wealth. The political game seemed to drive her crazy. She wasn't making logical decisions, and she was paranoid. She is obsessed with controlling as far into the future, and as far down his line of heirs, as possible. Too bad if the plans she has for her children now, is not what they want for themselves when they are old enough to choose.
   Some of her decisions, while they may not be considered moral today, were probably moral in her time and in her position (like sending an innocent page boy to his death in the position of her youngest son - the life of that page boy would have been worth nothing compared with a potential heir to the thrown).
   Elizabeth also believed strongly in her ancestor being a water goddess, and that she had magical powers by calling on her ancestor. She was playing with fire, and somehow avoided not being openly accused as a witch. Her mother was killed as a witch, though.
   The book ends with somewhat of a cliffhanger. The missing heir returns. Elizabeth's oldest daughter is about to be the new queen - to either the current king (or hedging their bets) even to the potential new king, Henry Tudor. War is coming: I know enough history to know that Henry Tudor does come and win ... but when?
   I can't wait to read and review The Red Queen.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Writer's Block

How slack am I? I haven't done a writing task for a few weeks. I could use the common excuse: I'm busy. But, I know that when it comes down to writing, the Nike slogan says it all: just do it.

Back to the excuse: I am busy. And I really am. I'm out of the house for more than twelves hours each weekday, working and commuting. Work is really busy. I'm also finished a degree - I'm doing one subject at the moment, by correspondence. I also have to nurture my relationship with my husband, and give him the attention that he needs. Aren't all these proper excuses for not writing?

It's not like I haven't been writing - just not for pleasure. I've written a chapter in a legal handbook for young property lawyers. I've written affidavits, reports, audits, management strategies, and tonnes of emails! But none of this writing is for myself - it's all for someone else.

I know that if I make time, I can sit down and write. The words will flow. So 'writer's block' isn't an accurate description of my problem.

My mine problem: procrastination.

Why am I always reluctant to further my writing career? Why can't I do something that will benefit me? Why can't I achieve my ultimate goal? What am I scared of? Am I scared that I will succeed? Isn't success the point? So, what's holding me back?

If anyone can answer any of these questions, I'd love to know.