Walking through the shelves here on my way to my window desk at the Mills Library, these three book titles stuck out their thumbs and asked for a ride.
1. Stop Talking to your Plants and Listen, by Elvin McDonald. ©1977. Subtitle: “I can’t believe you fed me the whole thing!” If you are asking yourself, “Why don’t the new leaves of my split-leaf philodendron split the way they are supposed to?” this may be the book for you. Why did this book choose me? Am I talking to my plants too much? Surely that’s better than talking to your pants. Far too many men listen to their pants.
Are my plants my words? My ideas? The plant on page 27 is saying, “Having nothing to climb on gives me a splitting headache.” Maybe my words are saying that too. They need a climbing structure. They need to take us from the dirt to the heavens.
Dirt is what we call exposition, according to Jack Hart in his book Storycraft. You start out your story with just enough dirt, or information, to get things going, but then you plunge ahead, sprinkling more dirt as you go. What am I even talking about? On to the next book…
2. My Deep Dark Pain is Love. Doesn’t say who wrote it. Let me flip it open…hmm, “A Collection of Latin American Gay Fiction.” Oh, I see… Gay Sunshine Press ©1983. A little plant listening followed by some Latin American gay fiction. Let’s flip it open and see what this book wanted to say:
“Watch my technique,” he shouted to the three.
“What?” said one of them, deafened by the music.
“My technique,” he shouted. “Watch my technique.”
OK, I’d better stop there before he elaborates. He’s talking about, of course, writing technique! You’ve got to have structure and you’ve got to have technique to take us through the structure. So let’s say I’m writing the profile of an interesting student. I pick for structure a day in the life. For technique, however, I pair throughout the piece little quotes by classmates and teachers about that student.
Moving on (quickly)…
3. Tales of a Parrot by Ziya’ U’D-Din Nakhshabi. Can’t wait to see what this is really about. ©1978. I open to a speech by the parrot, indignant because a man just said, “A person must be very stupid to pay one thousand dinars for a handful of feathers.”
“…I am not a messenger of God,” says the parrot, “Though I am wearing green.” This is good stuff. In the footnote it says, “Green is worn to indicate that the wearer is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.” So that parrot’s not just whistling Dixie.
Skipping ahead. “Because of the parrot’s misfortune all the other parrots covered themselves with indigo…” and the footnote says, “Coloring one’s garments with blue dye was a sign of mourning.”
The things we are learning! What does this tell us about writing? You create the structure, you develop the technique to climb up it and then you’ve got to perch! You’ve got to squawk triumphantly. Also, don’t judge a parrot by his feather colors. Also, consider footnotes.
That concludes today’s careless waste of time. Back to work.