Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Author: Jack

week 9 pt. 2

Just in case we don’t have the option to post journals next week (I need my ten!!) here is an un-published “look back” from earlier in the quarter. weird to see it now and how it all played out:

I guess I’m going to reboot. Sifting through this bogus shitty manuscript and trying to can abolish it into something OK has sapped me of any and all creativity. Fuck it. Three weeks till due date? Hell yeah I can write twenty thousand words. Right? I’m gonna do the stork story. Laying in bed right now that idea sounds wonderful. I want it to start: “Newspaper headline reads, “STORK CALLS IT QUITS.” I just don’t think I can toil in Between and come up with anything I’m proud of. It’s a great story but I can’t get a handle on it. Not in the right headspace. Carrying that novel project into this quarter = a big fuckin mistake…. Stork quits. Okay. Then what? Little May Vandall has to go find it. Little Em Randall. Front teeth like a squirrel, big cheeks. Where does she go to find the stork? Is the stork male or female or does that matter? Who’s the supporting cast? So many questions. My eyes are heavy. Head is buzzing. I sleep now on the cusp of great change. Tomorrow i saw goodbye to Shep for a little while. Weird. Makes me feel kind of sad. He’ll understand. I’ll be back when I’m ready to tell his story.

Week 9 pt. 1

Pig Man huffs down the row and slips his bag from his shoulder on to the empty seat beside him. He grunts when he lands in the chair and the chair grunts, too. He is with his brother, another Pig Person, and they drink milkshakes with extra whipped cream from clear plastic cups, reclined, hooves up on the seats in front of them. They suck and slurp from long green straws and pause only to breathe heavily and communicate in a simple language neither speaks well. Their voices are loud, their breathing louder. Pig Man checks his telephone and click-clacks a message with a ham-thumb to “Diane” at the top of the screen. Who could love Pig Man, a third grade science experiment aborted improperly and allowed to grow like mold left unchecked until it sprouted ears and a tail and a neck with three chins that rest on the chest and shoulders of a floral print button up shirt. Bing, bing says telephone as someone click-clacks back. “Diane” or maybe someone from the trough. Pig Man and Pig Brother are having milkshakes instead of slop. A few last slurps then they’re gone. The lights dim but they continue to talk. Oink, oink. Buzz cut, rolls of yellowed flesh around the neck. A stink wafts back. Who could love Pig Man.

Close Viewing

The nominees for the “Best Actress” category at the 83rd annual Academy Awards included Annette Benning, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, and a mostly-unknown actress named Jennifer Lawrence. Though it was Portman who took home the Oscar, the nomination of twenty year old newcomer Lawrence was arguably the bigger talk of the ceremony. It was her turn as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone that earned her the nomination and would, ultimately, catapult her into the world wide megastar she’s become. Since then she has starred in two major franchises, won two academy awards, and is currently one of the highest paid actors in all of Hollywood. She has proven herself time and again as a talented performer capable of both commercial and critical success. And for many, myself included, it is assumed that her role in Winter’s Bone, the genesis of #JLAWR as we know her today, is nothing short of incredible.
But how many people, myself included, have ever actually read Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone?
Literary adaptations are divisive, to say the least. Rarely can a film capture the full essence of a novel. A movie has neither the means nor the time to replicate a book’s every plot point or character nuance, and so it must “adapt” the best it can. Two characters become one, summer becomes fall, ten years becomes six months, and etc. The phrase typically heard after watching a literary adaptation is, “the book’s better.” But “better” is a relative, subjective word. “Different” is the one that should be used.
A movie is never the exact same as the book. Something always changes. And it’s in that change, that difference, people get hung up and boldly claim a movie is “worse” than wherever it came from. How wild the filmmaker veers from the source material usually determines the reader’s opinion of the film. In rare cases a literary adaptation may elevate the source enough for the film to stand on its own in a positive light. A good example would be the Coen brother’s adaption of No Country for Old Men, which keeps the story near-identical to Cormac McCarthy’s novel but utilizes transformative acting, sound, and cinematography in a way that makes the story feel larger than life. The film is comparable to the book as an equally powerful work of art. This is a best-case scenario, and very few adaptations reach such a level.
So it’s not surprising that Winter’s Bone falls somewhere in the middle. It isn’t No Country for Old Men, but isn’t Eragon, either (author’s note: Eragon is a movie based on the popular fantasy series by Christopher Paolini that butchered and changed its source to a criminal degree. It is one of the worst adaptations I’ve ever encountered…). Winter’s Bone is mostly faithful to its book, keeping the major plot points, a lot of the same characters, and in general it does a good job of adapting the basic story of Woodrell’s novel.
As a standalone film, not necessarily an adaptation, it works well as a gritty, low-budget indie, with strong performances and an excellent use of setting. The music, in particular, is effective in creating the atmosphere of the movie, giving the dark, dilapidated imagery a healthy undercurrent of dread and hopelessness. The film’s aesthetics work together to tell a captivating story, and it makes sense why it received recognition at the 83rd annual Academy Awards.
But did any of the voters that year read the book it was based on?
If you put Winter’s Bone the movie next to Winter’s Bone the book it doesn’t matter how faithful the filmmakers were to the story or the characters. Yeah it’s relatively the same, but it’s also totally different. The film is competent as an adaptation, but it strips away the poetry of the prose. Where Debra Granik created a “realistic” film about a girl and her quest to find her missing father in the alien world of the Poor South, Woodrell tells that same story but with a layer of beauty and magic decidedly missing from its silver-screen sister.
Do I want to say the book is better than the movie? No. Because I can be objective enough to appreciate each has its merit. On its own, again, the movie is fine. But as someone who’s read the book now, it’s impossible to be completely objective and pretend like the movie doesn’t live in the shadow of its source material.
There are small changes I didn’t like but understand, such as Ree wearing jeans and t shirts instead of dresses, or the movie taking place in fall/spring as opposed to winter (read: the lack of snow as a “character”), or it being a brother and a sister instead of two brothers, or making Teardrop more human and less cranked-out, terrifying anti-hero, or how the family ties and history are left out, or how Ree doesn’t get beat quite as bad by Thump Milton’s wife, or…. These are details that were changed in order to fit the narrative and/or budget constraints. In general it’s pretty faithful. Granik left out the sexual tension between Ree and Gail but that’s OK because how do you include an unexplainable-but-definitely-present subplot that operates entirely on subtext? I get it.
What I don’t get, though, is Jennifer Lawrence. In 2011 she was nominated for “Best Actress” at the Academy Awards for her portrayal of Ree Dolly. And it’s here I cannot separate the movie from the shadow of its source. I cannot be objective and say I “understand” the changes the filmmakers made in her character. I flat-out don’t think J-Lawr did a good job. Is this because I’m comparing the book and the movie? Absolutely.
Woodrell’s novel is told from the point of view of Ree. She is our protagonist, our hero, our narrator, our eyes. We feel her ups and downs; we see her resilience; we hear her intelligence. Sure, Woodrell has a hundred and eighty pages to develop her character, Granik a couple hours, but there could have been a middle ground.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree with such a reserved presence as to almost entirely rid the character of its strength. Gone is the spark, the sass, the color of the book’s Ree Dolly. Although a lot of the novel is told from the interior, there’s snap in the dialogue — a tangible energy and sense of character that only builds the more you get to know Ree. In the movie her character is static. We are shown a journey from beginning to end, but Jennifer Lawrence seems unchanged — as flat at the finish as the start. The closing pages of the book give us a Ree who seems hopeful, sack of money in hand, looking to buy a car and start down the road to her future. The last shot of Jennifer Lawrence gives us little idea what her future may hold. As the credits rolled I had no idea how she felt about the past two hours.
What I wonder, then, is how different my opinion might be if I’d never read Winter’s Bone. Would the movie, or more specifically, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, felt so muted? So bereft of vibrancy? Whether the book or movie is “good” or “not good” is irrelevant. This isn’t is a case of one version being “stronger” than another. They’re different mediums, with different limitations and intents. What it comes down to is personal connection. Which version of Winter’s Bone resonated the most? And, ultimately, is there a middle ground that could have been bridged between them? Is it selfish that I want the movie Ree to be more like the book Ree? Maybe there isn’t an answer. It’s all subjective anyway, right?

week 8

Despite steady work over the last however many weeks I feel like I’ve got another three or four worth to fit into this last one. Have to put finishing touches on the story then go over the whole thing, sand down the roughest edges so I have something to turn in that is even remotely read-able. Excited to have something to take with me post graduation, but, Christ, it’s gonna need a lot of work. Guess that’s what I get for rebooting my whole project in Week 6. Whatever. Glad I made the switch (ultimately…) but… Christ. My body mind heart hands legs typing fingers brain etc all hurt. I’m ready for week ten. Hell, I’m ready for Friday. For better or worse I can put the pen down; close the laptop lid; hit the off button. I can lay in bed without the thick, fuzzy onesie of tension and anxiety that has been like a second skin the past, I don’t know, week? Two weeks? Whole quarter? What a fucking mistake saying I was going to write a novel. I am not shits-out-words guy. I can’t fake 20,000. I’ll be lucky to break ten. But living in the shadow of that self-made expectation has been exhausting and totally un-conducive to actually writing. It hinders all my creativity. How many times can I type a sentence, delete a sentence, type a sentence, delete a sentence before I just fucking leave it and accept that I’m WRITING A FIRST DRAFT. Praying to the writing gods tonight this next week and it’s impending “deadline” cranks the juices just enough to finish strong. Close viewing, project, self eval, last journals. Phew. If you’re up there (or down or over or…) and are listening, writing Gods, I could use your strength.

Week 6

Writing Prompt: Directions 

Listen to the sound of my voice, try to hear the words but at the same time– feel them. Breathe in, breathe out. Close your eyes and focus on the top of your head. There is an energy there, a pressure. Maybe it’s your job. Maybe it’s your marriage. Maybe it’s the second mortgage or student loans. Now take that energy, that pressure, and, are your eyes still closed? Push it down. Not with your hands, but with your mind. Breathe in, breathe out. All that stress is moving down, down, down. It is liquid. YOU are liquid. Let that water drip to the ground below. Listen to the sound of my voice. Are you hearing the words? Do you feel them? Okay, now we may begin. This is how to assemble your new Ikea bookshelf.

 

Oscar Wao Close Reading

                For my close reading I’ve chosen pages 15-18, beginning at the top with “If he’d been a different nigger he might have considered the galletazo…” and ending on the bottom of eighteen, before the next section, “The Moronic Inferno.”

                Though the text is rich with personality and examples of excellent craft, I feel this section encapsulates, at least in this first half of the book, many or most of the different elements Diaz is working with. From character development, to humor, to the author’s general use of language, this section highlights and exemplifies the very voice of the novel.

                Rather than break it down in random sections or themes, I think it best to go in order, discussing their various merits as I move from fifteen to eighteen in an effort to paint the broadest, clearest pictures of what I took away from this section (and, in a lot of ways, what I’ve taken from the whole book thus far).

                We begin near the end of Oscar’s Cassanova period in which he dates both Olga and Maritza, and must choose between the two after a week of being with both. This first paragraph, this first sentence, showcases Diaz’s cultural use of the “N” word. Used less as a derogatory, racial slur, the word is used more as a means of identity. The way, I think, “nigga” is used in hip hop, and the black culture in general. While still abrasive, it is not laced with the power it typically holds, and when it appears, as it does in the beginning of this section, Diaz is giving his narrator a more authentic, colloquial tone. So, too, with the very last word in the sentence, “galletazo.” Diaz’s constant blending of Spanish with English helps marry Oscar’s Dominican heritage with his “black” American nationality.

                He does this again in the very next sentence, with the phrase, “It wasn’t just that he had no kind of father to show him the masculine ropes” (15). Diaz intentionally breaks a grammar rule, using no kind of father instead of something like, “he didn’t have a father.” Again, it gives the narration authenticity, character, and flavor. As a student of writing, of letters, Diaz’s use of “no” here and in various other spots was often more jarring than his casual use of the “N” word. But it’s effective in establishing the narrative voice. I think, grammatical rules aside, Diaz’s tone takes some getting used to, especially depending on who’s narrating when, but once you find his rhythm it reads smooth and natural.

                Continuing on in that paragraph we come across a good example of how punctuation is used in the book. Or, more specifically, not used, as Diaz delivers dialogue sans quotation marks. “(A puertorican over here? his mother scoffed. Jamas!)” (15). Again we have the blending of Spanish and English, but more important is Diaz’s lack of quotes before and after what Oscar’s mother says. Such is how the dialogue is handled throughout. It’s yet another interesting choice, but as with all of the author’s choices, it’s well done and effective. Not only does it add further “voice” to the narration, it lends the book a certain immersive quality. By removing the quotation marks, Diaz is nestling his dialogue directly into the fabric of the prose. The reader is not distracted by the marks and the flow of the sentences is left uninterrupted. We are not forced out of the story by a paragraph break. This approach, this lack of punctuation, is often initially distracting, more so than the marks themselves, but as soon you adjust to it, find that rhythm of things, it feels totally natural.

                Finally in that paragraph we get another casual use of the “N” word as well as a series of exclamation marked sentences that do a good job of Diaz’s use of imagery. “…how Olga had cried! Shaking like a rag in her hand-me-downs and in the shoes that were four sizes too big! Snots pouring out her nose and everything!” (15). Yet another example of style effectively enhancing the narration with “Snots” instead of snot, the exclamation marks themselves (something I’ve been taught are generally considered a “no, no” in writing), and the pathetic, sad picture of the too-big shoes. Diaz has this wonderful way of throwing you into the action, placing the reader in the present for the briefest of seconds before returning to the literal-past tense of the prose, of the relative expository nature the story has. This paragraph is a great example of that, as it both tells and shows Oscar deliberating and then breaking up with Olga.

                It’s important that, in a story operating largely on exposition and “telling” that we get these moments of action. Of “showing.” Another way Diaz breaks things up, keeps it fresh, is in his use of humor, like on page 17 when he writes, “his (Oscar’s) cool index, already low, couldn’t have survived that kind of a paliza, would have put him on par with the handicapped kids and with Joe Locorotundo, who was famous for masturbating in public.” Dry, relatable, poignant, and though often at the expense of Oscar himself, humor like this is crucial in keeping the story entertaining, and also in helping to keep the tone relatively light amidst a series of decidedly heavy things.

                Which brings me to the end of the section, and in what I feel is the most important part. Diaz does a lot in 15-18 showing off craft, the narrative voice, etc. But here, at the end, we get a quiet moment of genuine emotion. Reading Oscar Wao one may feel a lot of things, but the pace of the book, that rhythm of the tone, is quick. Emotions both dim and bright collide into one another within the confines of the paragraph and are often given little room to breathe. At the end of eighteen, however, we see Oscar move through his adolescence watching Maritza from his bedroom window as he reads books and paints miniatures. We are given a quiet, focused look at the character of our hero and are able to empathize with his plight. “He didn’t imagine that she remembered their kissing—“ Diaz writes, “but of course he could not forget” (18). And then he lets it hang in the air for the reader to take in and relate to and feel something for. It is not crammed in the middle somewhere, lost in the shuffle of the style or the over-arching story, but at the end, where it can breathe. A quiet moment in a sea of loud ones. And a final, perfect example of Diaz’s masterful use of nuance that make Oscar Wao such an engaging, effective read.

poem

Was thinking a lot about “art” this week, specifically my place in it. As a prose writer, songwriter, performer, poet, whatever, the older I get and the more serious I take this art stuff the more I worry about my contributions, what they mean, if they’re worthwhile, and, more importantly, is the source of that art (memories, the past, shades of darker colors…) worth mining from? worth distilling? So, anyway, I wrote a prose poem/maybe song about such things:

If you listen close there are songs that come and go like whispers on the wind. They send and recede with the faintest melody to the wellspring. To our hearts. And though I’ve tried and try to fight they always break me apart. With letters strung together we sing what lives inside. The timbre of our voices rise and fall in time with the heart-chord-thrum of life, and death, and love. Now, imagine if you can a memory you have still as vivid as when you lived it. Hold it up. Let it all come back. Watch the light bend and refract. Now pretend you choose to give it up, and you may never get it back: would it hold it’s shape and integrity? Or would it stand as an empty poem for your punk rock band? With letters strung together we sing what lives inside. The timbre of our voices rise and fall in time with the heart-chord-thrum of life, and death, and love. And by we I mean me. I mean all of us with an ear to the sky. How else are we to make sense of this life we live if not with the melody whispering on the wind? I may move “to the rhythm,” but I’m craving harmony. I can feel a breeze but I don’t know what it means. For her, for us, for me. But oh the songs I’ll sing.

Week 4

As a reminder: 

“Seeing codeine in my piss”

“Time to wait another week to reach the weekend”

“Edward four loco hands”

“When your buddy pulls out codeine….”

“Sweating in a vacant part of the library drinking coffee falling asleep and doing online chemistry but im also cold.”

“Just cus you were bullied as a kid doesnt mean you can be a fuck head RA”

“Gonna need to drink very heavily after all of this bullshit ass biology. Holy fuck”

“Im trying to get soooo ignorant tonight”

“Vodka gummy bear plug”

“I cant over my RA his ass had a crip walk holy fuck ol “can you get to your room okay?” noggin asssss. Puffer coat wearin mug IM FUCKED HAHA”

 

© 2022 Eye of the Story
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

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