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It is a whirlwind in here

Blocking Writer’s Block

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (even in metric).

I experienced over two month’s of writer’s block many a year ago. I did sit literally at my desk for hours. To this day I can  accurately describe that desk. Its vision is before/behind my eyes as I key. It had a red leather top.

I have devised a scheme which I find is 90% successful in combating writer’s block.

Do not finish your thought on page or screen. Make sure it is solidly in your mind (make notes if necessary) but do not write it down. If it’s a description – don’t finish it. If it’s dialogue – don’t complete it. If it’s a line of poetry – don’t end it.

The next day, start with the phrase you could have ended with yesterday. Read the preceding page, slide into the phrase not completed, put in those final words, and the odds are excellent you will continue on your way.

DE

She had God in her feet and Angels in her streaming hair

Death Masks and Death

Bliss Carman, whose death mask it was, and who supplies an appropriate quote.
Bliss Carman, whose death mask it was, and who supplies an appropriate quote.

I took advantage, for my workshop on the Supernatural, to take my students on a field trip to see the death mask of a historically known poet, conveniently placed in a near-by building.

None of them had even heard of ‘death masks’, let alone seen one. I invited them to incorporate the idea of a death mask into their writing exercises. Some did, some did not. However,  it’s possible this visit to death elicited the following story from one of my students. If any do take a look here, they’ll see that I said what I meant about writers stealing all and sundry.

My student and her husband had purchased a new house. Cleaning and renovations eventually took them to the back loft area, which was piled high with decades of accumulated detritus from a long life. They cleared out beds and boxes and newspaper piles and magazines and bundles of clothes and on and on. Anyone who has had to clear out a house knows what this is like.

Near the end of this process, my student noticed a “clump of something” on one of the wooden beams in the ceiling of the loft. Getting ladder and flashlight, her husband climbed to see what it was.  He did not nearly fall from the ladder – that’s hyperbole – but he was definitely taken aback. It was the end of a number of knotted bed sheets.

DE

Kafka And Technology

Franz Kafka had little use and no affection for that new-fangled invention – the telephone.

Kafka probably also wished he had never seen a typewriter, though he pecked away on it daily.

However,  no doubt to his chagrin, Kafka has been credited with devising the first ‘safety helmet’ or hard hat. He was also awarded a medal for this feat. Now, I knew Kafka had been awarded a medal by the Austro-Hungarian Empire for some services rendered. The beauty of this (something even Kafka appreciated) was that it never happened. By the time the bureaucracy  of the Empire had chewed its way through the procedure, the Empire no longer existed. Empire and Emperor were both gone as a result of the First World War. The Empire had disappeared before Kafka ever got his medal.

For a writer seemingly outside the ‘real’ world, Kafka was acutely aware of it and how it functioned.  He was  the first person to describe for popular consumption, through a newspaper article, the flight of that newfangled device, the aeroplane. He attended an air show in Italy where there were stunts and races. He wrote an account, “Die Aeroplane in Brescia,” which was published in the Prague newspaper Deutsche Zeitung Bohemia. I would say he was impressed, if not exactly pleased.

Kafka And His Burrow

HUMAN BURROW

A burrow offers security and comfort, and Kafka found both in his sister’s tiny house on the Golden Lane.

Ottla – his sister – had rented it so she could spend time with her lover and not be bothered by parents and comments. Her lover was a Christian and ready to go to war. Time was precious. However, she rarely had opportunities other than the weekends, so she offered Franz the use of the tiny house for most of the time. And use it he did, though he never stayed the night.

Through fall, winter and spring Kafka wrote a whole book of short stories there. For one single block of time, it was one of his most creative periods.

When I visited, even under Communist rule, it had been converted to a book store. Of course (which he would have appreciated) there were no books by Kafka for sale. Today he is displayed in the windows.

It was only when I went thorough the small rooms and looked out the window into The Moat that I realized how important the house would become in my novel about Kafka. It was cozy – even with the space cramped by tourists. It had been little altered and I easily imagined Kafka looking through the same glass and walking through the same doorways. No doubt stooping because he was tall. Research met reality.

One of the last stories Kafka wrote, during his final year in Berlin, was called The Burrow. A version exists and is published, though a longer version is supposed to be among his ‘missing’ papers. In it a tiny animal keeps incessantly burrowing to keep away from an enemy. A vague noise convinces the animal to burrow deeper. Yup – that’s Kafka.

DE

Harrison Ford And Me

Harrison Ford And Me

In 2001/02 the movie, WIDOWMAKER K-19, was made, much of it filmed in Halifax harbour and out on the nearby ocean. It deals with submarines and an in-ship disaster, staring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson.

I was not aware of this when I visited Halifax. I went down to the waterfront and went along the boardwalk. It was very foggy on the water (which it can be without having much on land). I was exceedingly surprised to see, looming out of the fog, a submarine next to the wharf. There are submarines in Halifax, but they are berthed at the naval dockyard a couple of kilometers from where I was walking.

It took a couple of minutes to realize that it was not a naval submarine (no markings). What was happening was that the submarine was being turned by a couple of tugboats. I read later that each side of the same submarine was altered differently so, in close ups and aerial footage, it could appear to be two different submarines.

However, there quickly appeared to be a problem. From the shouts and gesticulations of a man on the wharf, I found out that one of the mooring lines had not been cast from the wharf. The submarine was being pulled away from the dock, but it was still attached. It was a gigantic and thick mooring line, and I do not know what damage would have been done to either ship or dock.

The man was yelling to another man on the deck of the sub, who had a bullhorn and in turn was bellowing to the crew of the tug boat. However, nothing was heard over the roar of the engines (tugboats have powerful engines). The man on the wharf was trying to lift the mooring line from its post before it got too taut to move. I ran over and helped him, and we managed to get it from the post just as it started to be pulled into the water.

Of course I watched the movie credits closely, but I was not mentioned.

No famous movie actors were involved in this incident.

DE

Beaver Tale and Tail

TWO BEAVERS ON THE LEFT BANK

I was walking along the river and heard the strangest noise. It was one of those noises which, when I found out what It was, sounded exactly as it should. A beaver was chewing at a branch on the bank of the river. First there were small rolling noises as the branch went through its hands, and then the ‘gnaw gnaw gnaw’, and then the turning noise and the cycles were repeated.

This went on fifteen minutes or so, then the beaver and I both heard noises in the water. We both saw another beaver approaching. The beaver-at-gnaw quickly went in her direction (though I can only guess which sex was which). They swam toward each other, then rubbed faces. The approaching beaver made small bawling noises like a young calf. They rubbed bodies and seemed to sniff each other, then they swam in different directions. This performance – the swimming away, the languid circling, the approaches – went on for twenty minutes. A couple of times the ‘gnawing’ beaver clambered over the over beaver’s back, but this lasted just a few seconds. The beaver which approached rubbed noses once again, and made the bawling sounds one more time.

I never appreciated how large beavers are until one of them came up on the bank. The water was clear enough to see their feet and tail move underwater (I wonder if the portion out of the water might have the 1/10 proportion of an iceberg). The sun was setting and they became difficult to see. However they decided to part anyway. One began to go down river toward the harbour and one headed to the other shore. For me an experience of a lifetime.

She had God in her feet and Angels in her streaming hair

She had God in her feet and Angels in her streaming hair.

Deep Fog And Deeper Foghorns

Last night I stood on a high hill, overlooking the broad Bedford Basin.

Bedford Basin is a wide body of water connected to Halifax harbour by The Narrows. Halifax harbour in turn leads to the ocean. As I watched the further hills of Bedford Basin, fog was rolling from inland and spreading across the water. As I looked toward The Narrows, fog was streaming from the harbour to fill the entrance of Bedford Basin. There was a lot of fog.

This morning, the meteorologists say that Halifax is in a “deep fog”, a term I have not heard officially used. They are correct. I can not see across the harbour, though I can see houses across the street.

I like fog. I like foghorns. I enjoy seeing a wall of fog roll in from the ocean. I enjoy watching the water, the land, the ships, the houses, all become obscured. I anticipate becoming obscured myself. Now you see me, now you don’t.

I also enjoy foghorns. They have been sounding from the harbour this morning. They can startle, yet they are evocative. They are historical. The Queen Mary 2 was in Halifax last week. There were celebrations for the 175th Anniversary of the Cunard Line. The grand ship sounded its grand horns a number of times as it left. I was, if I may say, blown away.

One time I was on the Atlantic coast and saw a thick wall of fog out to sea. From my distance, it seemed to be staying put. The description of it being a wall is almost literal. On my side, blue sky and sunshine. On the other, white obscurity. As I walked along the shore I kept looking at the fog. It did not change or lift.

Then, one time I looked, I could tell something was different. The image was thicker. There was some additional colour. In the course of a long minute I realized that a huge ship was coming out of the fog. Spectral and slow. A container ship piled high. Its bow glistening in the sun. A three- masted schooner would not have been more impressive. Or spooky.

DE

Getting Published In New York

Over The Transom

My friend Google tells me that “over the transom” is still a viable term. In this case it refers to a manuscript accepted by an editor submitted cold – perhaps even from the dreaded slush pile. At any rate, my manuscript for A LOST TALE was accepted “over the transom”, and I was asked to New York to meet the editor.

Although I had experienced and appreciated Montréal, Toronto, London, Berlin and other large cities by that time, I had not been to New York. Many events of that trip are memorable, but none more than my “lunch” with the editor. The editor took me to some dark and trendy place for a late lunch. There were not many people there and, restaurant fiend though I am, the food was not my top priority. Discussion of “the work” and proposed changes was more on the menu for me.

However, as I sit across the table from my editor, I can not help but notice a man seated by himself beside the wall. He is tieless and shirtless and, though the lighting is dim, what there is reflects from his naked skin. He sits with a beverage and seems to hum to himself. My editor is discussing both the menu and some confusion he perceives at the beginning of my novel. I note items on the menu unknown to me and am doubly confused.

The shirtless man at the other table increases the volume of his humming and eventually a waiter goes to him and has words. The shirtless man has words back, but they sound like gibberish. At my table the editor suggests something from the menu and I happily comply. There is wine. Whilst I eat and listen to suggestions, the shirtless man is spoken to by two other waiters. As I (wisely) restrict myself to a second glass of wine, two uniformed policemen enter the restaurant and approach the shirtless man, whose gibberish had increased even more in volume.

In the course of a few minutes three other uniformed police officers – one of them female  – arrive on the scene. They are now ranged around the shirtless man and his table. I finally tell my editor what is happening behind him and why I am not concentrating fully upon his suggestions. He turns around. Two of the officers remove the table from in front of the shirtless man. Two others, one on each side of him, haul him to his feet. It is then that we see his shirtless state continues all the way to his naked feet.

The female officer takes the tablecloth from the table and drapes it around him. The four male officers form a circle around the naked, shrouded man uttering his gibberish, and hustle him from the restaurant. The female officer picks up what appears to be a pile of clothes from beneath the table, and a pair of roller skates, and follows them.

I say to my editor that I have never seen anything like that.

My editor concurs.

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