One Beautiful Sentence

“Men who share the same rooms, soldiers or prisoners, develop a strange allegiance as if, having cast off their armour with their clothing, they fraternize every evening, over and above their differences, in the ancient community of dream and fatigue.” – Albert Camus, The Guest, from The Exile and the Kingdom, a collection of short stories.

Having been unable to write as of late [and I am not going to discuss that state of affairs yet once again] I have been spending a great deal of time reading. I acquired recently a collected work by the great philosopher/novelist Albert Camus. Along with Exile and the Kingdom, the collection includes The Plague, The Fall and some of his essays like The Myth of Sisyphus, and Reflections on the Guillotine. Existential crises not withstanding, the work of Camus is most beautifully written.

Born to French parents in [French colonial] Algeria in 1913, Camus spent his childhood and early adult years in that country. As a French citizen, though of the poorer class, he was witness to the treatment of the native population by their French counterparts and many of his works are set in Algeria and concern the two cohabiting cultures of the country. His descriptions of the landscape and the people can be breathtaking. See if you don’t agree:

“She had dreamed too, of palm trees and soft sand. Now that she saw that the desert was not that at all, but merely stone, stone everywhere, in the sky full of nothing but stone dust, rasping and cold, as on the ground, where nothing grew among the stones but dry grasses.” The Adulterous Woman.

“The silent city was no more than an assemblage of huge, inert cubes, between which only the mute effigies of great men, carapaced in bronze, with their blank stone or metal faces, conjured up a sorry semblance of what man had been. In lifeless squares and avenues these tawdry idols lorded it under the lowering sky; stolid monsters that might have personified the rule of immobility imposed upon us, or, anyhow, its final aspect, that of a defunct city in which plague, stone and darkness had effectively silenced every voice.” The Plague

Seems eerily prophetic, reading that passage now… Anyway, I am in awe of this ability to paint such vivid word pictures, to evoke the spirit of a place and a time. So that while I am not writing, at least I am continuing to think about it and to learn from a master like Albert Camus.

Image via Wikipedia

Write Like Someone Else

One of the best parts of writing is creating characters, telling their stories and in doing so, pretending to be someone else. It’s like having a second life, completely in your control. One of the worst things about it is everyone who knows you assumes that in some respect, you are revealing aspects of your persona that you cover up in public. When you write melancholy, disfunction or even downright malice into your characters, does that mean that inside you feel that way on some level as well? And why is it that it’s only those darker qualities that people question? Why would someone assume that if I write about a serial killer, that I have murderous tendencies myself? Or in a more realistic scenario, if a write about a character suffering from depression or anxiety, does that mean I am revealing my inner issues too?

The short answer is: of course not! The beauty of writing is being able to step outside yourself and into someone else’s life. To use your imagination in a more than superficial way to feel what it’s like to be another person with a unique perspective and a completely different set of circumstances. When we do that we have to be prepared to go to the dark side. To find those regions of human experience that aren’t pretty or comfortable. Because really that is life these days.

I’ve said this previously: being able to shine a light in dark places in our writing is a good thing. It creates the drama a novel needs. It makes our characters believable and relatable. It gives them depth, dimension. It makes the reader invest in the character, either in hoping for their salvation or their demise. But it doesn’t make the writing a confession. It just makes us better writers.

Image via John Haim

Handwriting

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I got a letter in the mail from a friend back in the States. This may possibly be the first personal letter I’ve received in decades. Business correspondence not included, of course. My friend is a Luddite – she has no internet at home, no smartphone and no email address. Anytime she absolutely needs the internet, she visits the local library. I cannot imagine living this way! However, if I’m going to be a good friend and keep in touch, I must respond with a physical letter of my own. And this I did today.

In an interesting little twist, I realized that despite being able to type up a letter to send, I have no way of printing it. I’ve come to depend so much on digital everything, that I don’t even keep hard copies of my own documents. Honestly, if the cloud ever goes down I am positively doomed. But really, I hate collecting paper. I was therefore, compelled to write by hand this letter to my friend.

How often do we actually use handwriting anymore? Besides our signatures, there are few opportunities to ‘write’ at length. My GP and dentist all use electronic forms. Nevertheless, I still hand write often. And strangely, I like my own handwriting. I have kept notebooks for all my writing projects and I nearly wrote the entire first draft of my first book in a series of notebooks. Some things are just better with pen and ink. I wonder though, if the following generations will use handwriting at all. And if they do, if it will be a form of block printing? I hear they’ve stopped teaching cursive handwriting in schools. And if that’s the case, will future generations no longer be able to decipher a document written in cursive?

It makes me a little nostalgic – writing by hand. I think of all the beautiful lines of poetry, the masterful works of fiction, the powerful speeches and philosophical treatises written by hand before being set to type for printing. I hope that somehow this fading skill will not be thrown in the dustbin of history. At least not in my lifetime!