A Luddite’s Summer Vacation

by Elizabeth Cunningham

Everyone in my family takes photographs, good photographs. I enjoy seeing their work, what subjects they choose, how they approach them, the effects they achieve. I am sure that walking around with a camera can heighten a person’s power of observation. Photographers are always on the lookout for a picture that way I might be alert for a poem. All my family members have digital cameras now and can do things on the computer with their photographs that I do not even have the vocabulary to describe. As a Luddite, I never even owned a conventional camera.

I spent last week with some of my family on the coast of Maine, the best place to be during an East Coast heat wave. We took many shore walks, clambering up and down rocks, in and out of coves, across pebbled and musseled sandbars to tidal islands. As we walked, everyone but me stopped frequently to photograph dramatic rocks, fantastical arrangements of seaweeds, and, when we finally had some surf, they quested for the curl of the wave, fleeting spume of spray.

Although I respect and will benefit from my family’s art (new computer wall paper on its way) I felt confirmed in my ancient Luddite ways. The camera may evoke but cannot record the sound of the waves, the wind, the sea birds, the scent of low tide and beach roses—or the impact of all those multi-sensory elements on the senses.

In the course of writing The Maeve Chronicles, I have traveled widely doing onsite research. People are always shocked when I tell them I don’t bring a camera. I also rarely take notes. I can find facts and photographs in books or online when I need to. But what I can’t look up is the mood of a place, the way I feel when I am there. Someone once asked me: How do you remember? Without hesitation and without having to think, I answered: with my body.

That is how I find the poems I referred to early. My body alerts me. I know something is there. I pay attention. I absorb whatever it is. But I don’t think about it. I don’t start writing in my mind. It happens later, when I sit down and invite whatever it is to rise again, to take form in words. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t. But the memory is still there in my cells. I will close with two stanzas from a longer poem. I was writing about a strong emotion but it was the sensual memory of a moment that evoked it for me.

I had to stop
pursuing her. I had to
stand still at low tide
with the vanished islands
and the silent

cormorants, opening
their wings one after
another in slow motion
trying to lift the fog
from their feathers

A small memento of a Luddite’s summer vacation. PS: If you can figure out, how to subscribe to this blog, please do! http://www.passionofmarymagdalen.com/

obsession: god

My first memory from the age of three is a theological one. I had worked out a plan (call it an obsessive fantasy) for killing God and Jesus. They would be floating along the desert floor, and, from a pinnacle, I would tip a huge boulder onto them and flatten them. The always boinged back to life (just like Road Runner) so I had to kill them over and over.

I have now spent eighteen years re-writing the New Testament in a series of novels that I believe balance devotion and irreverence. But a friend of mine felt that I had finally succeeded, theologically, in killing off god—or at least orthodox, monotheistic Christianity.

passion: passion

My method for carrying out my obsession is passion. My narrative character is Jesus’s lover. (I became rather fond of him over his years, though I still refer to his father as The Terrible One.) She never becomes his disciple, and she has her own apotheosis. (I like to say that she puts the erection back into resurrection even though it doesn’t quite scan as a pun.)

fixation: writing about religion and sex, obsessively and passionately. They belong between the same covers—of my books.

Blog # 2

Facing the Abyss

A twitter friend answered my request for blog topics with these questions (wording approximate): What makes a good writer? What makes for good writing?

A good writer is doubtless sometimes a lousy writer. Writers have bad days, just like everyone else. A good writer persists. A persistent writer faces the blank page day after day, whether on a screen or in a good-old-fashioned notebook. I’ve done both. The awe and terror are the same. The blank page is the freakin’ abyss, the void, the great nothing that contains all. That’s why I named my computer Wu Ji, the beginning posture in Tai Chi Chuan.

So take a breath and make a mess, write the first word, the first page, pages. Pages can be ripped up, backspace and delete can be hit, but you have to actually create your material before you can work with it. And when you’ve honed it and polished it and finished it, your reward is: another blank page. Here are a few scattered thoughts. A good writer is:

always a beginner
a tracker, follows the trail of a story or idea, knows when it’s cold or when it’s challenging
is ruthless, will chuck hours, days, weeks, months of work and start again if necessary
knows when it’s right the first time
is patient and attentive to detail
loves language the way a mechanic loves the engine of a car
is in partnership with work itself, is a co-creator
knows how to listen
delights in being surprised

Blogs are supposed to be short, so I will save the second question for another time. Meanwhile all you writers: Right on, Write on!

http://www.passionofmarymagdalen.com/

A Luddite’s summer vacation

Everyone in my family takes photographs, good photographs. I enjoy seeing their work, what subjects they choose, how they approach them, the effects they achieve. I am sure that walking around with a camera can heighten a person’s power of observation. Photographers are always on the lookout for a picture that way I might be alert for a poem. All my family members have digital cameras now and can do things on the computer with their photographs that I do not even have the vocabulary to describe. As a Luddite, I never even owned a conventional camera.

I spent last week with some of my family on the coast of Maine, the best place to be during an East Coast heat wave. We took many shore walks, clambering up and down rocks, in and out of coves, across pebbled and musseled sandbars to tidal islands. As we walked, everyone but me stopped frequently to photograph dramatic rocks, fantastical arrangements of seaweeds, and, when we finally had some surf, they quested for the curl of the wave, fleeting spume of spray.

Although I respect and will benefit from my family’s art (new computer wall paper on its way) I felt confirmed in my ancient Luddite ways. The camera may evoke but cannot record the sound of the waves, the wind, the sea birds, the scent of low tide and beach roses—or the impact of all those multi-sensory elements on the senses.

In the course of writing The Maeve Chronicles, I have traveled widely doing onsite research. People are always shocked when I tell them I don’t bring a camera. I also rarely take notes. I can find facts and photographs in books or online when I need to. But what I can’t look up is the mood of a place, the way I feel when I am there. Someone once asked me: How do you remember? Without hesitation and without having to think, I answered: with my body.

That is how I find the poems I referred to early. My body alerts me. I know something is there. I pay attention. I absorb whatever it is. But I don’t think about it. I don’t start writing in my mind. It happens later, when I sit down and invite whatever it is to rise again, to take form in words. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t. But the memory is still there in my cells.

I will close with two stanzas from a longer poem. I was writing about a strong emotion but it was the sensual memory of a moment that evoked it for me.

I had to stop
pursuing her. I had to
stand still at low tide
with the vanished
islands and the silent

cormorants, opening
their wings one after
another in slow motion
trying to lift the fog
from their feathers

A small memento of a Luddite’s summer vacation.

PS: If you can figure out, how to subscribe to this blog, please do!

http://www.passionofmarymagdalen.com/

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1 comment

faerian August 26, 2009 - 7:49 am

people are so often interacting with their camera that they forget to really look… we went to Malaysia on holiday recently and there we were, under a tree with and orangutan in it…a wild orangutan which may be a thing of the past by 2012 when they are predicted to be extinct in the wild…

and people were checking out their shots on their digital cameras – i mean they were looking at screens and not at this real life miracle above them…

their urge to trap the image of the experience was greater than their urge to live the experience….

i love your blog Elizabeth!

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