Archive for the ‘mystery’ category

A Few Notes On Getting Creative With Writing

March 16, 2019

Here are a few notes to myself about creative writing.  Gathered from many places!

—  If you want a creative scene, dialog or description, put two or more disparate elements (characters, scenery, moods) together.  Make them as unlikely and interesting as possible. Beware ridiculousness.  Have it make sense.

— People often belie their names or labels or concepts about themselves.  They’re not quite what they’ve been categorized as.  It’s fun to try to show that.

— Describing one thing vividly can be more effective than describing an entire room.  Or civilization.

— Try to look at the world, and especially your loved ones, with wonder.  And then at yourself.

— Story as change, not just conflict.  Thank you, Ursula Le Guin.

Our interest’s on the dangerous edge of things
The honest thief, the tender murderer,
The superstitious atheist, demirep*
That loves and saves her soul in new French books —
We watch while these in equilibrium keep
The giddy line midway: one step aside
They’re classed and done with.
— Robert Browning

* a woman whose chastity is considered doubtful; an adventuress.  I think these are elegant ways to put it.

— But you may be sitting at your computer, or dipping your quill into the inkwell, and yet even with that sneezable amount of writing to do, you’re still feeling a little stuck or fretful.  You lack faith.  Having an inspirational book on writing beside you to browse for a minute or two is good then.

It is the writer’s openness to the ambiguity and uncertainty of any experience (even the experience of determination and certainty) which gives clarity, and thus a kind of certitude, to his writing. — John Bergen

— At the end, our hero is sunk so low in his voyage of revenge — a change of heart is his only possible way forward.

— There are aliens, or at least alien artifacts, in this story. How can one portray the really alien? I haven’t figured that one out yet — or I should say, I haven’t discovered what it might be. Giant ants or robots with laser eyes are so… human.

Springsteen sings like a man intent on opening his heart.  In this way he is an inspiring figure.

— Every character has some kind of armor, perhaps manifested in physical form that the character feels safe inside — a role or symbol or self-presentation that the character relies on, like say a doctor’s white coat or a stripper’s lack of clothes.  This becomes highly limiting.  And then to make it more complicated, occasionally putting the armor on is the right thing to do.

We live immersed in narrative, recounting and reassessing the meaning of our past actions, anticipating the outcome of our future projects, situating ourselves at the intersection of several stories not yet completed.
— Peter Brooks

— The tasks of this second draft I think will be to carefully remove the indistinct and to sharpen turns of the characters and to tighten the chains of causation between them. Make the future world more interesting and strange, yet plausible. Make the story better. Don’t die before it gets published….

— Thwarted needs turn into neediness, even if only on a subliminal or subconscious level.

— Texture of air.

— Emotions can often be more effectively described by showing the restraint of them.

— Each character’s little vanities about themselves or what they do, little prideful things.

— “Kenning.”  A kenning is a different name for a thing — so the sun becomes a day-star.

Clifton Fadiman on a book by Hemingway:
It is written with only one prejudice — a prejudice in favor of the common human being.  But that is a prejudice not easy to arrive at and which only major writers can movingly express.

— Write just enough setting detail to get in the scene with the character.

— It really requires getting in the scene with characters, as if in some battle arena where you, incorporeal, closely observe the goings on without fear of a knife in the ribs. One or two, or more, specific sensual descriptions in the scene can do so much. Being in the scene imaginatively with the characters facilitates that.

— I’ve realized that a lot of what makes satisfactory writing is developing emotional resonances for the characters and for the meaning of the story. I have a long way to go with this.

— I’ve come to understand how obsessed with story I am, just like everyone else in the world as we distract ourselves through film and music and books. Occasionally we discover real meaning through story. For us who want to write creatively, this obsession becomes more conscious, and in its compelling way, comes to capture our thoughts. We want to make stories that can speak in the same way that others have moved us, at the height of the best story-telling.

Being certain about any aspect of our story limits us. Let’s trust that the story lives fully within us, and that something valid wants to be expressed. There’s an experience far more empowering than certainty, and that is a faith in the fundamental truth of our story, a growing belief that it is not necessary to force anything, but rather to inquire into the nature of what we want to express.
— Alan Watt

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Canadian Summer III

April 18, 2018

We were older then

suddenly

The three boys

growing into men

although very young ones

Our mother

long widowed and

independent

Always ready for a

loud happy party

She loved to

hold court at the

fire pit

a  few yards from our cabin

on the hillside

over the creek

in a balding grove of poplars

The fire pit was half an old cast iron

boiler or other contraption

Go on – stick a log into the open end

into the fire’s hot coals

it saves making firewood

Sparks fly!

Summer twilight

Far enough north to be uncommonly late

our neighbours, friends and

townfolk who knew my mother

pick-ups and sedans in the yard

the noise of the creek

in the oncoming night

All gathered ’round the flames

bright yellow and orange

shimmering white deep down

We sat on logs or planks

Some standing

beer in hand

the firelight gleaming from our eyes and glasses

Chatting and teasing, disputing and agreeing

or not speaking, taking in the summer night

Waving away the firesmoke and mosquitos

Not quite knowing that

This is what endures

 

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Canadian Summer II

April 14, 2018

See

there’s the Old Wagon Road

that went up over our land and

ran off to who knows where

Grassed over

it was a road to nowhere

a remnant of another time

deep into the forest

of our imaginations

cowboys and indians

cops and robbers

no super heroes though

My brothers built

a little house

in the woods

out of poles

by the Old Wagon Road

an echo of

the log cabin in the clearing below us

The little house framed a collection

of cast-off plates spoons and pots

old rusting tools

and a broken down chair

From outside take a look

between

the little green poplar logs

all the wonderful clutter within

I don’t know what it was

But that pretend cabin

stood proud along

the old road

 

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Canadian Summer

April 10, 2018

Canadian Summer

as I lived it

my own particular Canadian summer

you’re there

say 1967

log cabin

central northern bc, canada, north america

the wheat fields next door

provide the burnished light

of summer

on Deep Creek Road

past where that bull was corralled

come on down and

across the Deep Creek bridge

and take the right into our driveway

Go past

that there official welcoming committee

three old black rubber tires

stacked to hold upright

a rag doll man

made out of driftwood

decorated with my brothers’ old

clothes

And roll up the slight rise as the gravel crunches

And stops

There’s that log cabin

That captured my father’s heart

thecabin

 

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Again With The Voynich?

February 9, 2018

I’ve been fascinated about the enigmatic Voynich Manuscript ever since I first heard about it.  This is attested to by a couple of previous posts here, one in 2010 – I Like A Good Ancient Mystery: The Voynich Manuscript – and one written in February two years ago – Whatever Happened With the Voynich Manuscript?

voynich_bathers

In short, for those who haven’t run across mention of this ancient document which may come to us from the 15th Century or before, the Voynich Manuscript is written in an indecipherable script by person or persons unknown. It is also decorated with unknown star constellations and plants, and with a variety of naked female figures cavorting in and around vaguely alchemical vessels.

You can look at a digital version of the manuscript for yourself on The Internet Archive.

Over the years, the most fascinating aspect of its mystery has become the proliferation of both plausible and bizarre theories about it.

Basic human psychology

There is a basic aspect of human psychology at play here: our tendency – our need – to create patterns and meaning out of ambiguous or mysterious raw material.  And then to clamp like a vise to these preliminary gestalts as if they’ve been bestowed by the gods themselves.  Once a shallow channel of belief takes form, it only seems to deepen with the flow of time and self-convincing, and rarely finds another path.

When last I wrote about it – my knowledge consists of web sources – there had seemed to be a minor breakthrough by Stephen Bax, a linguistics professor in England. He thought he had deciphered 14 characters and 10 words of the Voynich. He believed he was able to pick out names like hellebore or coriander for some of the plant diagrams. He tried to identify proper names in the text, which is a strategy used in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.

More recently Bax speculated that “the script was devised for a particular community, possibly to write down an already existing language, and then that script was lost to us, with the exception of the Voynich manuscript.”  He cites an example of lost languages only recently revealed in manuscripts kept in an old monastery in Egypt.

Bax, let me hasten to say, is one of the more serious and reasonable people to look at the manuscript.

Here is a short list of other theories:

— an early work by Leonardo Da Vinci
— written in the Manchu language with an original alphabet
— a medical text written in the language of the Aztecs
— a liturgical manual for ritual euthanasia in the Cathar religion of the Middle Ages
— a sixteenth-century hoaxer created the gibberish text
— created by an alien visitor to Earth

Artificial Intelligence and a finding of Hebrew

Most recently, computer scientists from the University of Alberta here in Canada used artificial intelligence methods to try to decode the manuscript.

As you may know, artificial intelligence has in recent years improved by an order of magnitude or more with such accomplishments as “Watson” winning the TV game show Jeopardy, and AI beating the world’s best at the oriental strategy game of Go.  The latter is especially impressive given the reliance upon a highly trained intuition about the shape of the game by the best human players, which is a step above the admittedly complex accomplishments of the grandmasters of Western chess.

In the Voynich case, in preparation for tackling the manuscript, the scientists trained the AI to decipher 380 different language versions of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The AI determined after the first 10 pages of the manuscript that 80 percent of the encoded words appeared to be written in Hebrew.

So the researchers tried to have a native Hebrew speaker translate.  He couldn’t do it.  Then they tried Google Translate!!

With that, the first sentence read something like: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”  It could possibly make sense….

The scientists also translated the so-called “herbal chapter” and seemed to get words like “farmer” and “air” and “fire.”

Of course, we have to remember that this AI was trained on modern-day languages.  Even if it was Hebrew, Google Translate only works with the modern language, not medieval dialects.

And 20 percent of the examined text didn’t seem to be associated with Hebrew at all, but gave wildly different results, such as Malay and Arabic.

The Times of Israel provides a detailed review of the history of the manuscript and an analysis of these most recent results.

The article points out that the AI analysis is based on the premise that the person who wrote the manuscript encoded by both substituting letters for one another, and mixing up their order as in an anagram. This is an assumption that is unproven.

Another researcher tested Google Translate with another sample of the manuscript (with another manipulation process) and ended up with Hindi….

We are still left with the mystery of the Voynich.  The only proper response seems to be to celebrate its inscrutability.

And that is what composer Hannah Lash has done.  In the 2016 post, I mentioned that she was creating a symphony based on the enigma of the Voynich, a creative reaction amidst the noise of all the theories.  As of 2017, she completed it, and the symphony in its entirety has been performed.

You can hear an excerpt from the third movement at the New Haven Symphony Orchestra site.

If you really want to get into her musical process about the manuscript, there is a large selection of videos on YouTube.

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Note:  For an interesting breakdown and comparison of Voynich images with other sources, see this analysis of the illustrations at René Zandbergen’s site about the Voynich Manuscript.

Also, it is sad to note that linguist Stephen Bax cited above recently passed away.  His site, and fascination in the last part of his life about the Voynich, will apparently continue to have some connection with fellow “Voynichero” René Zandbergen.