Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Inspiration from 8 1/2

Watch 8 1/2 on a late summer Sunday evening

I realize I’m very late to the party on this, but I recently watched the film 8 ½ for the first time. Haunting black and white images, tinged with longing. Boundaries blurred between memory and unfolding reality. Seamless transitions between fantasy, recollections, 
and the inevitable near-conclusions of a weary womanizer/director’s life decisions. Comical touches woven throughout that keep the tone from being too self-important. This film contains many gems for any person involved in the creative process, and below are two favorite quotes that I jotted down while reading the subtitles across the bottom of the screen.

“We’re smothered by images, words and sounds that have no right to exist, coming from, and bound for, nothingness…Our true mission is sweeping away the thousands of miscarriages that everyday, obscenely, try to come to light.”
I think creative people are wired to look at the world through the lens of whatever project is bubbling away on the back burner. Listening to a couple argue on the subway and storing the scene away into a mental jar. I know I can use this later, but how? We are all capable of pricking up our ears and staying alert for random acts unfolding around us. The real talent comes in being able to realize that maybe there is no creative use for a particular incident. Learning to understand what best suits our artistic intention. What should come into the light, and what needs to stay behind.

Image Source
“How do you benefit from stringing together the tattered pieces of your life? Your vague memories, the faces of people you were never able to love?”
How do we “string together” the bits of personal experiences, the fleeting vision from a daydream, the hinted at life of a stranger, the lingering mood from the just-finished book, into a comprehensive whole that gives even the slightest hint at what we so desperately wanted to portray? 

I remember being in kindergarten and wanting to draw a delicate Monarch butterfly perched on a flower. When I tried to translate my imagination into a crayon drawing, I was so disappointed because it hardly resembled what I saw in my head.

One thing to remember is that even if an idea is based on a real life event, I’m not bound to put down every miniscule detail that surrounded it. That’s the beauty of creatively re-purposing. I can change the truth – make it more extreme, heighten the intensity, bend the rules. OK, this idea doesn’t work for this character. No worries. I can lift it right out of this piece entirely and plop it into the life of another character who occupies a much different space. In the end, only the smallest speck of a detail may still be “true,” but if that speck had enough power to evolve into something bigger, unplanned, unexpected – all the better.

In 8 ½, we don’t need to see a finished film from Guido. It is enough to understand what he is trying to do, to watch the floating memories collide with the current cast of characters in his life. The incompleteness, the process is what intrigues. The ever-shifting barrage of muses and stimuli provides enough substance for us to grasp onto. Enough mystery to remain curious, enough familiarity to turn inward and question our own artistic goals. The whirling kaleidoscope of our own crazy lives.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Laura #1

The following excerpt is from a work in progress by Fiona Clifford
She was accustomed to living in a dull silence with Fred - 
feeling him creep through the house. There was an unfamiliar 
hush to the apartment. The blank face of walls.

Fred was gone, and Wren was too young to ask questions. Laura found an apartment right away. A little more than she wanted to pay, but it had a dishwasher. Remembering Fred towards the end, standing before their old sink. In slippers with the heels torn away, a stained shirt she’d tried to coax him out of for days. Washing the same dish over and over. Never dunking it in suds. Just constantly smoothing porcelain with a rag, eyes trained on the kitchen window. Smoothing the dish in precise circles, like  a genie’s lamp with one last wish. Or a worry stone to lock secrets into.

There was no window above the sink in the new kitchen. So Laura scraped her single dinner plate, rinsed bottles, and loaded the dishwasher with the blank face of whitewashed walls staring back. She was accustomed to living in a dull silence those last few months with Fred – speaking to him in gentle tones, feeling him creep across the house. There was an unfamiliar hush to the apartment. She stepped among moving boxes, re-arranging them into a better path rather than commit to unpacking. Grateful that Wren couldn’t talk yet, relieved that she had a chance to perfect the story of Fred’s absence. Time to decide what details to leave in, which ones to discard.
Alternatively, she looked at Wren’s burbling mouth and willed her to speak real words. Something to break the spell of newness that the apartment, the city, had cast on them.
After Fred, Laura tried to stick around. Then she overhead her mother-in-law on the phone. Laura had gone over to sort through Fred’s old boxes. Everything he abandoned on his way to college. “Why don’t we run off?” Laura asked after they married. “To a place where the whole damn town doesn’t know your name.” No, he couldn’t bear to leave. The boxes in his mother’s cobwebbed basement had hooks in him. A safety net he always needed within reach.
                  Laura called Fred’s mother about coming over. “Just let yourself in, dear,” Judy instructed. “Don’t ring the bell, I’ll be napping. I’m so tired these days. Go on down and take whatever you want. I can’t stand thinking about it anymore.”
                  So Laura eased the door open, just wide enough to slip inside. Careful not to create any tell-tale rattles or creaks. With any luck she’d haul the boxes up the stairs, pack them into the truck, drive home, and watch them burn in the backyard bonfire pit within an hour. All without speaking a single word to Judy.
Judy's kitchen was a relic to Fred's boyhood.
A dense cabbage smell pricked the nose.
                  The kitchen was a relic from Fred’s boyhood. Cracked linoleum curling in the corners. The yellow wallpaper with its odd nautical pattern. A battered kettle on the burner. Dense smell of cabbage pricking the nostrils.
                  Once inside, Laura quickened her pace. Avoid the meticulously arranged knick knacks and the endless tunnel of hours they spoke of. One hand on the basement doorknob, sensing the spiders and silent mold. She listened for sounds from the bedroom. Judy was in the living room. Murmurs of agreement, clatter of cup against saucer.
                  The jig was up. Better go in and say hello. She took a few reluctant steps, then stopped, realizing that Judy was on the phone.
                  “It’s a tragedy, Phyllis. Freddie was such a happy soul. Marrying that woman wore him down. I don’t know what she did to my boy.”
                  Laura opened her mouth, closed it wordlessly. A dying fish. She contemplated her next move. Maybe march into the living room and enjoy the twisted shock on Judy’s face as she realized what Laura overheard. Rip the phone from Judy to let Phyllis know about the time Fred locked himself in the bathroom after his French toast came out soggy. Or his compulsive need to sweep the driveway. Running the broom back and forth, back and forth. For hours. Bristles rasping until the invisible specks of dirt were removed. Did you know, Phyllis, that during the last month, he taped newspaper over the mirrors in the house? Because the sight of his own reflection made him too damn anxious. I mean Phyllis, if you’re going to flap your lips, you might as well talk about it all.
                  But Judy went on talking, unaware of Laura. Silently cursing, Laura put one foot behind the other and stepped backwards across the kitchen. Bumped into the kitchen table. A vase of plastic flowers wobbled, stayed upright. Her hand found the front door. Only then did Laura dare turn her back on the living room. Almost free. Out the door, down the steps. The same ones Fred used to pry weeds from to earn allowance. Laura fished her keys from her pocket, but shook so much they hit the ground with a useless clink. Stay calm, just pick them up. Once in hand, she ran to the truck, the sting of the key’s teeth against her palm pushing her on.
                  Laura jerked the truck into gear, stomped on the gas, and with crushed grass and mud flying, she was gone. Remembered Wren at home with the babysitter. That’s it, she thought. We are out of this fucking town. White knuckled, teeth grit in determination, she barely noticed a woman and a little girl crossing the street.
                  Tires squealed as the truck swung wide at the last minute. The woman snatched the girl up in a fluid motion, running for the safety of the sidewalk. Laura glanced in the rearview. The girl had dropped an ice cream in the sudden burst of action. She pointed at it smashed in the middle of the road, face pinched in tears. Still clutching the girl tightly, the woman screamed at the tail end of Laura’s truck.

                  Laura exhaled in a long whoosh. A sudden mantra rose up in her mind, and she latched on, reciting it the rest of the way home. Stupid bitch, stupid bitch, stupid bitch…

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Past & Present

I’m currently working on a piece about a woman named Laura. Attempting to shut the door on the absence of her husband Fred, and the ever-present circumstances of his departure, Laura moves into an apartment with her daughter Wren. Laura vaguely senses a certain familiarity stirring within her daughter. Caught between obsessing over Wren’s upbringing, the growing claustrophobia of being sandwiched between the hidden lives of apartment tenants, and a man who appears from 
the fringes of the property, Laura struggles to bring stability to their lives.

Believe it or not, I’ve been good about setting aside an hour or so after work to tinker away at Laura’s story. So I don’t jinx the flow, I’m going to keep Laura on my laptop and typewriter for now 
(Weird – right after I typed that sentence, I opened a Magic Hat and the message on the bottle cap was “Get Jinxed”).

Despite the suggestion of my beer, I’m going to travel back to the 5th grade. My mom recently moved, and in helping her go through piles of boxes, I re-discovered lots of crazy stuff. Including a typed (as in typewriter) copy of the anthology that the Enrichment program associated with my school put together. Sitting there at the bottom of page 15 was this little ditty of a poem I wrote about my home state:


Black-capped chickadees chirp
in evergreen branches of pine,
Golden potatoes grow
in blueberry-scented air,
Children play in salty Atlantic breakers
sparkling in the sun
As beautiful as
a gem

Fiona Clifford
Grade 5

OK – so the title is a little uninspired (coming up with titles has never been my strong point), and the last four lines are pretty cheesy, but I like “black-capped chickadees.”

As the search through musty boxes continued, I found a laminated booklet of poems that I wrote and illustrated when I was 12 (The “About the Author” section I wrote on blue-lined notebook paper and pasted in the back clued me into how old I was). I’m not sure if this was part of a school assignment, or something I did just for the heck of it. But lo and behold, the third poem from the end was my Maine poem. Even back then I liked to recycle my work!

I originally wrote this poem in the 5th grade, then used it again a year or so later when creating the above page for a homemade poetry collection. Don’t be alarmed – the dimpled brown lumps floating in my Maine illustration are supposed to be potatoes. The dark brown blob is a pine cone. Even better is this “About the Author” write-up that I included at the back: Fiona A. Clifford loves to write. She was born on October 31 and is 12 years old. Already two of her poems have been published.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Welcome... my experiment. In blog-form. Here’s a bit of back story. Riley and I were lucky enough to have his father and sister visit us in July. His dad and sister were sitting at our living room table. Looking through pictures on the computer, if I remember correctly. I walked in from another room and happened to catch one of them say the phrase “shadow of a coffee cup.” I have no idea what they were talking about, but this combination of words struck me. Shadow of a Coffee Cup. Wistful, an everyday object that catches the light in a certain way one morning and reminds you of something from the past.

This leads into my purpose for starting a blog. A place to explore overheard and stumbled upon scraps of inspiration – a one-sided conversation from the street, a news story, a magazine ad – with the potential for further creative development. Growing up, I had many notebooks dedicated to stories (even as a kid, I don’t think I ever actually “finished” anything), and now as a “grown-up” with a full-time job, there are too many easy excuses for pushing my writing off until tomorrow. I’m hoping a blog will keep the creative juices flowing, get me back into the habit of writing more regularly, and allow for a healthy dose of shameless self-promotion. Not to mention that my old notebooks and school papers are collecting dust, and it might be fun to drag some of those blasts from the past into daylight.

So, welcome to the inner workings of my weird little mind. Fancy meeting you here!