Wednesday, June 30, 2010

That's the Spirit

What was it like there, in that place you were writing about with such focus that the sense of time became like a sink running over?  That meant you were pretty well inside the narrative, had the characters placed so that you knew if they had to shout at one another or could rely on a stage whisper.  Of course, if the narrative were not fiction, you had the arguments placed in some semblance of blocking so you could tell if they had to shout at one another or could, yep, rely on a whisper.

You're getting at The Spirit of Place for a particular reason; you wish to take on in your own way from D. H. Lawrence, where he left off in his prefatory material to Classic Studies in American Literature.  You have been touched, teased, and inspired by Lawrence's work since you first read it, years back.  You loved his voice then, you listen to it even more closely now because, in this remarkable work of his, he gives you vital cues about how to listen to him; you get the sense of what sort of fellow he was, and you admire his read on America, gained so quickly from his time here and, of course, from his reading of those who came and went before him and helped define the very sense of place he was writing about.

The Spirit of Place has a special place in this nonfiction project, but in anticipation of it, you need to remind yourself that Spirit of Place is a presence in every scene in every story; it captures not only those basic sensual things as humidity or lack thereof, or height or whether the smell is from sage brush or the iodine of the ocean, it is the character of the place, blazing in on the senses of your characters, making them aware of their comfort or discomfort, their sense of vulnerability or safety, their ease or sense of being socially one or two or three down in relationship to all those standing or sprawling or, perhaps, lurking about.  If John, a character, ventures into a convenience store for a Reese's Peanut butter Cup, he must take in the Spirit of that place, register it however briefly, demonstrating among other things the power of the right word.

Spirit of Place is political, ethnic, ethical, social; it is gang turf or the simultaneous off-putting and achievement oriented strand of Rodeo Drive; it is run-down-at-the-heels tenderloin or newly gentrified downtown, it is L.A.'s Bunker Hill, it is Collins Avenue in Miami Beach.  It is all the ambiance of all the places you enjoy, say the Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles on Pico.  The need for Spirit of Place is basic and is to be sketched into stories as though through the literary equivalent of Japanese calligraphy.  The Spirit of Place for the nonfiction work you're contemplating is more attitudinal, more reflective of the Balkanization process going on amongst the political factions; it must suggest and intimate absolute quirkiness and borderline madness rampant not only in the U.S., but which is part of the human condition everywhere.  You are political, no denying that nor is there any sense denying your own quirkiness and idiosyncratic nature.  Nor, since the entire idea is triggered by a  book written by D. H. Lawrence, who has a few quirks and wrinkles of his own, should you want to ignore these.

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