Clichés

William Shakespeare

Griselda disappeared a couple of months ago.

Before setting off for subconscious terrain, she left a long letter on my desktop, beside a file of the novella I was writing, accusing me of suffering from a “Plague of clichés.”

I didn’t scoff, as I might have if anyone else had said it. Her list of grievances was too long, and too pointed. All I could do was sigh and groan.

“Perhaps,” she concluded, “you should take that statue of Shakespeare you’ve had since childhood, and move it from the bookshelf to your desk for inspiration….”

Which is exactly what I did.

So far, he hasn’t said a word. Nor has he budged. I turn the desk light on periodically to see if his expression has changed, but it hasn’t. And, if the light bothers him, I can’t tell. He doesn’t squint, and he doesn’t complain. Not even about my clumsy drafts.

***

In the past couple of months, I have read two novels in which he plays a significant role. Both use similar construction and literary devices.

I enjoyed reading them, but, when I finished, I was struck by how many other books I have read in the past year in which the Bard plays no role, but the construction and devices do—the same ones in my work that triggered Griselda’s departure.

And so, I am left with a silent Bard, too many versions of a manuscript driven by stale contrivances, too much time to rue over them, and a reluctance to let them go.

Shall I be like Donatello, before his statue of the prophet, Habakkuk, and scream at my silent icon, “Speak, damn you, speak!” Hoping, praying for instruction? Or shall I regard the lack of it as trust? The Bard’s way of saying, “You can do this. Think….”

Think, he says…. Of folders nested within folders, unused titles, inscriptions, settings, characters, words…overused construction and devices…and Griselda’s exasperated notes….

A plague of clichés.

Maybe that’s where I start.

©2020 All Rights reserved

Mass Hypnosis

Albert von Keller – Hypnose bei Schrenck-Notzing

There’s a moment in the film, All About Eve, where Margo Channing, an actress in mid-life with a salty tongue and noble spirit says, “I detest cheap sentiment.” Words to live by. Yet, she becomes prey to the cheapest of sentimental ploys by a young, ambitious, and conniving actress, named, Eve.

Margo is the model for my inner critic, Griselda, mentioned in earlier posts—although Griselda’s cynicism would never allow her to be victimized by someone as saccharine as the title character in All About Eve. She would have seen through Eve immediately and sent her packing.

As you might suspect, I detest cheap sentiment, too. Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize that sort of emotional manipulation. Google’s recent Super Bowl ad was a particularly offensive example. Narrated by an actor playing the part of a widower asking Google to remind him of things his departed wife said, the voice-over and images were set to a threnody designed to to wrench viewers’ heartstrings from their chests.

And, judging by the majority of reactions on social media, the technique worked.

But I was infuriated. Because aside from what I saw as a facile and obvious attempt to manipulate people’s emotions, there was an underlying awareness to it that all the sorrow and empathy evoked would make viewers forget forget forget that Google is storing those lovely memories and photographs, along with plenty of other data they’ve amassed via tracking, and that the accumulation of that data, and access to users’ lives and activities comes with risks.

Cheap sentiment is a powerful tool, and those who use it know that.

Last night people’s screens filled with shamelessly sweet and heart-stirring images and false promises designed to make them forget forget forget years of the most sinister and self-serving behavior.

Look here not there, listen to this, not that, and think only about how the images and words make you feel….

It hard to blame people for not seeing the truth. The technique is cheap, but frighteningly hypnotic.

It’s hard to fault them for being distracted, forgetting….

But do you hear that? It’s the sound of fingers snapping. Wake up. Wake up. And remember….

©2020 All Rights Reserved

The Plow

screen shot 2019-01-19 at 5.29.09 pm

“The Plowman” (Winslow Homer)

The thing about Griselda is she works when I do. If I’m off, she goes…elsewhere; but she’s always back when I’m at my desk, or making notes on paper assuming I’ll be able to read them later…which I won’t because…well, I’ll save that  for another time.

***

I’ve been practicing Hatha Yoga for decades. Four to five mornings a week, once my breakfast has settled, I do a fifteen minute flow to keep my frame limber and strong, and my nerves soothed.

Almost two weeks ago, as I was coming out of the Plow pose, I felt something in my back move in a direction it was never meant to go.

***

You read a lot when you have to spend 10 out of every 90 minutes with an ice pack, first on the side of the initial injury, then on the side that wrenched in response. And days later, when you switch from ice to heat, you reach for a book because you get sick of watching movies and binging on TV series.

I actually did manage to get some writing done when I was finally able to sit at my desk for more than 20 minutes without pain, but mostly I read.

And I came away from those books, all fiction, all of which had garnered enthusiastic praise by reviewers, wondering what I was missing, and whether there was still a place for my voice (such as it is) among all that is recognized as worthy these days. Yes, I know, it could have been the muscle spasms talking, but knowing that didn’t help. It put me in a funk. So, I looked for Griselda, and found her on a velvet swooning couch watching a badly degraded copy of The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.

In spite of the funk, I watched it with her, and, for some odd reason, felt better afterward.

***

It’s almost 5:30 here, and according to my Fit Bit, I’ve logged 3,000 steps doing laps around the kitchen and dining room. I was also on my feet for over an hour this afternoon peeling and slicing apples for a large pan of crisp (now baked and making the kitchen smell heavenly), and I’m still able to sit at my desk without pain.

Ptui, ptui, ptui.

But, I’ve decided to eliminate the Plow, and it’s demonic sibling, the Supported Shoulder Stand, from my flow, when I’m ready to go back to it. There are enough planks and other neutral spine poses to keep me flexible and toned. I think my back will appreciate that. I know Griselda will.

She is fond of plows, but prefers those that turn the earth, ready the soil for seeds of all varieties. For her, it’s all about what takes root, what grows, and what thrives. She’s funny that way.

©2019 All Rights Reserved