Pollocking: Ramble On

Yesterday was a complete wash. Stayed up the entire night before, reading Robinson‘s Close to Home, ’til after 9 am. Then a belated birthday celebration with Lily and Miss MeL at FATE Brewing Company. (Second time in two days we’d been to FATE, because we discovered it, and its amazing Coffee Kolsch, on Saturday after massage.) That led to early bed or a late nap because beer and homemade key lime pie weren’t conducive to doing a whole lot of thinking or writing or even sitting up watching the A++ hilarious entertainment that is Alaska State Troopers.

Today is my massive work day, every week, so not much Pollocking happened today, either. At least, nothing deliberate and focused, like research or writing or character sheets or anything that looks like forward progress.

It’s weird, writing a blog entry about writing a novel that isn’t anything about writing a novel per se, but…that’s the point of Pollocking, I have to keep telling myself. To allow myself to have whatever progress I have in whatever way that I have it. I have to learn to trust that when I start flinging word-paint, it’ll cross the abyss and make the shape and story I want it to make. Or that it wants to make.

But I guess I did learn some things.

1. Doing the same thing over and over makes a rut. New paths give you new perspective, and break down the rut. Revolutionary stuff, huh?

2. Readers will forgive a lot of thing for the sake of a good story and page-turning tension. Like, DCI Banks is a breast man. We know he’s a breast man because nearly every time Peter Robinson describes a woman from Banks’s perspective, there’s mention of her nipples. Even if she’d have to be aroused or cold in an unlikely situation for Banks to see them, there are nipples. I notice it every time, and I don’t particularly like Banks all the time, and when I start reading one of the books, I think I’m not interested.

And yet, I’ve read all of them I can get my hands on, and I just finished book 13 of the series, and 14 is cued up in my Oyster. I started turning pages at 4 am and I was still saying “just a few more pages” at 8 am, and finished it at 9 am. Robinson may not be great at characters all the time, but he’s damned good at bridging tension and unraveling a mystery in little chunks. Not unlike the video clips in Her Story. Out of order, from untrustworthy sources, of uncertain value, and it’s up to you to put the pieces together–that active engagement comes from gaps and blanks in the record that the reader has to fill. If we know everything, then there’s less reason to keep reading.

3. Alaska State Troopers is amazing. No, seriously. It’s not the freudenschade (although, hell yeah, there’s that), and it’s not the sense of ‘Good Guys Win’ that I get from procedurals with a narrative. I’ve learned more about Alaska than I ever would reading books or watching a travel narrative. Not surprising, since it’s actually a National Geographic production.

For example, it’s one of Alaska’s worst wildlife crimes to kill an animal and not harvest it properly. You can be fined for that, even if you made the kill legally. And when the troopers have to kill an animal in the course of duty, a charity comes and harvests, especially if it’s a game animal that can be used for food. It’s a wonderful example of how sustainability and environmentalism make good law. Limiting takes may piss off hunters, but it also ensures there continue to be takes, and at the same time, the harvesting laws help the smaller communities and impoverished families keep food in their freezers over the winter.

It’s absolute gold when it comes to how real people behave and things that they say. Also known as, “Drunk people aren’t witty, or funny, or clever or even particularly brave. They’re just stupid.” Sometimes unintentionally hilarious, too: “I’m just trying to shave my cat!” or when being arrested and told the charges, “I don’t know, guys.” Or when asked why vehicular-stalking a police officer’s wife (who is not Muslim and while not in Anchorage), “Anchorage is under attack by Muslims.”

There’s also the pathos of the small, dry Native communities being inundated by smuggled alcohol, the greed of hunters who take more than they’re licensed for, the bravery of citizens helping Troopers in life-threatening situations, the sweetness of recognition from one of the villages when a Trooper helped find a doctor who’d gone missing.

I’m not saying it’s Emmy-winning television, but there’s plenty to learn about humans and characters and what kind of details make a story. You’d think watching drunks get pulled over would get old after a few episodes, but it’s the details of the individuals that make the stories different. (Also the excuses they come up with, the swear words blocked out, and how many times they use them.) I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget someone trying to get out of a domestic violence arrest by saying they were roleplaying a fight to stage some awesome makeup sex.

4. Back to FATE and going new places: I don’t have to wait ‘until I’m thin’ to flirt with a cute guy. I don’t have to wait ‘until X to go out and have a few drinks with friends’. IOW, don’t wait until anything to live your life. Live it. Because overweight or out of shape or needing a new haircut or having a big zit or not being good at something ARE part of life, and there’s always going to be something. If you wait, you’ll never get the chance. Conditions will never be perfect.

I don’t know yet what any of this has to do with medieval Jewish magical realism meets fairy tales. Maybe nothing. Or maybe everything. It’s all redefining me, and having a place to stand and a point of view is essential to having something to say.