Wednesday, 3 March 2010


I took a break from poems yesterday. My eyes were doing that bulging thing and had gone all cracked and dry. Also, I had got the first draft of my covering essay (aka the Afterword) back from my supervisor with comments: the opening's a bit glib and ploddy, he said, I need to flesh out my idea, 'run with it.' I like the idea of running with it, but I have so little time I'm afraid of where running will take me and how long it will take to get back. I'm afraid that once I start running I won't come back at all.

So I spent yesterday thinking about my theme and not doing anything constructive at all. Now I'm wondering if I should scrap that idea and try another. It was a bit of a whim anyway. It was to reimagine heroism. The idea came to me after my supervisor said that my characters could never be heroes because they are always being dragged back down by the quotidian.

First I thought, 'that's true.' Then I wondered why that's true. Then I became irritated by the whole notion of heroes at all. Now I have a calcium depleted skeleton of an idea and every time I try to put some flesh on it, it breaks and I have to try and reassemble it. Knickers.

I hasten to add that he is very encouraging and only asks me to think a little more about what I am trying to say, so I can show how my characters and poetic personas fit in to the heroic tradition. Heroes restore the equilibrium that benefits a privileged few (landowners, governments, capitalists, etc.) at the expense of the rest of us. Heroic tales have traditionally been told to keep us content to stay in our place, by showing the alternative as evil. They give us a taste of that evil ( dragons, communists, terrorists etc.) and then along comes the hero and wipes it out so we can carry on (growing crops, voting, buying cars and handbags) living the 'natural' way we do. Are my characters collaborators?

But, there are anti-heroes, or people's heroes as they are sometimes known. Robin Hood, Ned Kelly, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid spring to mind. They always have to die in the end, don't they? I have to think. I have to think in a directed way, and do some research. But it all feels terribly artificial and strained, as though I'm trying to impose some sort of limit on my work that doesn't exist in reality. And I still have poems in need of attention, and stories, and a piece of non-fiction, and not much more than two weeks before the whole thing must go to the printer and be bound.

My problem could be that I am glib, incarnate.


Rachel Fox said...

Maybe try a very, very glib heroine/hero? Write what you know etc.

Anonymous said...

I think every realistic hero gets dragged down by the quotidian.

I don't quite agree with your political take on heroes, to be honest; in fact I think that nowadays any kind of rebellion, however crass or selfish, is too easily regarded as heroic. I think we're up against a lot more in life than just political oppression.

For me a hero is either someone who gives a lot to others (Robin Hood maybe, not so sure about The Sundance Kid) or someone who responds to life in an inspiring away.

But just someone who is consistently kind is hero enough for me.

The Pollinatrix said...

Wow, Eryl, I love the way your mind works.

I see no conflict between heroism and the quotidian. So much of my writing focuses on illuminating the quotidian. Because that's where we live our lives. The adventure is there or not at all. My favorite stories are small stories.

Reimagining heroism is a heroic act, and I personally would love to see where you could go with that.

This is probably more related to your fiction than your theme, but you may want to check this out: http://www.thewritersjourney.com/. You're probably already familiar with Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" model, but the way it's laid out on this website is very helpful to me in applying it to writing.

Eryl Shields said...

Rachel ~ glib heroine coming up!

Jenny ~ sorry, I should have said 'Traditional fictional heroes restore equilibrium...' Those put forward as modern heroes are a whole different matter. It would be interesting to do a survey of what people see as heroic traits, I reckon most would agree with you.

Polli ~ this is exactly what I'm trying to argue: the quotidian as the stuff of heroism. It seems to me that the quotidian is studiously ignored by those who write about heroes. Heroes don't even have to use the lavatory let alone clean it! But my thinking is that if heroes vanquish evil, and evil is something that threatens lives, or ways of life, then surely ensuring no one gets food poisoning and maintaining family unity etc. has to be a least a bit heroic. Unfortunately that's as far as I've got!

Thanks for the link I'll check it out immediately.

The Pollinatrix said...

Really! What about Erin Brockovitch?

Another resource comes to mind, a book by Kathleen Norris. It has a decidedly Christian slant, but not a fundamentalist, Bible-thumping one. It's called The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work."

savannah said...

The idea came to me after my supervisor said that my characters could never be heroes because they are always being dragged back down by the quotidian.

so, as i was considering my answer, you wrote it! dealing with the everyday is heroic. it is heroism of the highest degree - unspoken, unheralded and unknown. i also would never consider using the word glib to describe you! xoxoxo

Titus said...

Aargh, on your behalf.
I would sit for at least a day and consider if you completely want to change the covering essay, as isn't that a big ask of yourself?
However, if you want to press on with what sounds to me like a very interesting idea, here's a quote from Ben Wang's intoduction to Xiaobing Tang's "Chinese Modern: The Heroic and the Quotidian."

"Tang tips the balance toward the quotidian. The heroic encompasses the momentous actions, theatrical spectacles, and epoch-making collective drives of modern China--the image of history in the classic Marxist sense. The quotidian looks the other way at the comforting nooks and crannies of quiet pleasure, domesticity, the intricate workings of the psyche, the satisfaction of desire, and daily commodity consumption. Even though the heroic generally ran roughshod over the quotidian for a whole tumultuous century--until the latter emerged as the new god of consumption--the quotidian in its tragic victimhood and resilient survival is bound to take on an aspect of the heroic on its own. It has a "revelatory desolation," possessing "its own beauty and grandeur" as part of "the heroism of modern life" (p. 5). It is a heroism lived from day to day, quietly, beneath the relentless march of political history."

Hang on in there!
I like being a glibbite. It's a big world and there's room for us all out there.

Eryl Shields said...

Polli ~ I must watch Erin Brockovitch again. See, I don't really know enough about this to tackle it in an essay, and I think I've left it too late to find out. Also, I think it's bigger than a 2000 word essay, it's probably phd stuff, and therefore not for me.

I'll put that book on 'my must get hold of once I have some money' list. The writer's journey website is great!

Savannah ~ exactly! And thank you, but I do seem to open my mouth a bit too readily at times.

Titus ~ ooh, brilliant quote, thanks.You couldn't give me the exact citation could you just in case I need to use it? How come everyone else is so much better read than me?

I think the time for the Glibbite is coming!

lulu labonne said...

I'm bloody impressed with Titus.

I was just going to say that you might be doing too much thinking - but that would be exactly the sort of thing a Glibbite like me would come out with.

Glibbite - I love that!

Titus said...

Is this enough?
Xiaobing Tang. Chinese Modern: The Heroic and the Quotidian
Journal article by Ban Wang; China Review International, Vol. 9, 2002

If not, search on the title of book and you'll get to it. I hope.

Glibbitism - you know it makes sense!

Eryl Shields said...

Lulu ~ me too, she's incredible.

Titus ~ fantastic, thank you.

I think I might have to have a t-shirt printed!

Pat said...

Lulu says: 'I was just going to say that you might be doing too much thinking - but that would be exactly the sort of thing a Glibbite like me would come out with.'

Seems I'm another. Glibbite that is.

red-handed said...

I *love* thinking about heroes. Especially dead ones. And the cemetaries they inhabit. I wrote a story about it myself.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I'm a necomer to this blog - what are you getting bound at the printer's? I never been much drawn to heroes, especialy the super- ones. Even cuddly ones like Florence Nightingale apparantly did more harm than good.

The World According To Me said...

Everybody needs a hero. But not one who makes your eyes bulge and feel dry and cracked. Or was that just your poems?!

Elisabeth said...

I suspect you're not glib at all, Eryl, just finding your way.

I met my supervisor today, too. We talked about similar issues t do wth my thesis: how to stick with the heart of my theme - life writing and the desire for revenge - how to keep it to the centre.

This is the age old problem of the more academic approach to ideas.

I have a friend, a wonderful writer whose first novel received high praise indeed. Her second novel is part of her PhD and therefore subject to an exegesis. She sent off a section of her exegesis to her supervisor who sent it back with the comment, not so much in these words, but words to the effect, 'this has no footnotes, it will not do'.

In other words, however well written, it was not scholarly. To be scholarly you need to visit other people's ideas. To explore and discuss other people's ideas you need to quote from them, hence the need for footnotes.

Speaking of which I should be working on my own right now.

Eryl Shields said...

Pat ~ I think I will ask my son to make me one of those badges that people display on their sidebar: 'I am a Glibbite and I'm proud' perhaps. So anyone who wants one can copy and paste. It seems there are more of us than one might think!

Red Handed ~ I do love a cemetery myself. Is your story on your blog? I'll come and have a wee read when I'm free.

Gadjo ~ I'm at the tail end of a creative writing master's degree trying to get my final portfolio finished, hence the poem panic earlier this week.

To me the interesting thing about real heroes, such as Florence Nightingale, is that in doing one thing marvellous they fuck up every thing else.

Worldy ~ what I need is a hero wielding eye-drops to rescue me from my evil poems.

Elizabeth ~ did you know what your theme was when you started, or has it revealed itself to you over time? I'm not entirely sure what my theme is but all my writing is about 'women's work.' Or, rather, it describes either the actions of women working in the home or the result of those actions. At least I think that's the case. The problem with the exegesis is having to analyse what I write and why. Why do I focus on the actions of these women, what am I trying to say? I guess if I could explain it fully I wouldn't be driven to write creatively in the first place.

But you are right, I must dig out a few scholars to quote.

Meri said...

You've gotten so many brilliant comments about the quotidian/heroic issue that I want to address one other piece that leapt out as I read your post. It has to do with you saying that you spent the day thinking about your topic and not doing anything constructive. I find that mulling ideas over while doing mundane things that might not seem to amount to much can have a huge impact on writing. Your unconscious has a chance to take over so that when you begin to write again, there is fertile material there that you might not have anticipated. I'm sure that happens to you. The problem is being too ready to flog yourself for "unproductive" time, measuring only by a benchmark like word count or revised drafts. Granted, it may be that this piece needs a longer gestation and another will come to you before the first is birthed. But there is likely a lesson in the tending process. (And thanks for your comment).

Kim Ayres said...

The hero who doesn't die at the end, becomes part of the establishment...

Elisabeth said...

I knew my topic/theme pretty well from the first discussion I had with my supervisor, even before I enrolled to do my PhD, Eryl.

It had been rolling around in my mind for some time. She, my supervisor, helped me to articulate it. I owe her a great deal.

They say that your relationship with your supervisor is one of the most important features of this type of research. I think there's some truth in this.

Your relationship, with your supervisor that is, sounds pretty good, too.

I'm good at finding wonderful quotes from other people but I need to better at paraphrasing the ideas. At times I quote too much directly because I prefer other people's words to my own. It's an occupational hazard and one to be wary of.

Eryl Shields said...

Meri ~ you are absolutely right. I often find taking time out and doing something like baking or gardening allows everything to sort itself out so that when I come back to the writing I can just do it. And, now I do feel I'm getting back on track.

Kim ~ it's a bugger that, isn't it?

Elizabeth ~ my relationship with my supervisor is such that I couldn't ask for more. I emailed him today in a bit of a panic and he got straight back to me with a few thoughts on my work which were so astoundingly wise I immediately knew where I was going wrong. No more heroism, thank goodness.

It is so tempting, isn't it, to quote verbatim. I fall foul of that far too often, for the same reason you do. Everyone else seems to put things so much better than I do.

Scarlet Blue said...

Is there a muddle of maverick and heroic here?

Golden West said...

I'm always a little leery of media created heroes. A quote from H.L. Mencken comes to mind: "The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it".

I prefer the quiet heroics of people who go about their lives making their immediate world a better place, out of any spotlight.

Eryl Shields said...

Scarlet ~ you're a genius! After days of torturing myself over this bloody essay: trying to make my characters fit a theme (heroism) instead of trying to understand them, I have only just realised this.

Golden ~ me too, I don't know what I was thinking. My fiction and poems focus in on people who, in trying to make their lives fit some sort of grand idea, find themselves coming unstuck. So, what did I do? I tried to make my work fit a grand idea and came unstuck.

Golden West said...

Hi Eryl,
Yes, that photo on my blog was from yesterday. We have an unusual weather pattern here on the coast, not unlike the Mediterranean coast of France ( so it is said). Our weather is affected mostly by the ocean currents - something called the Catalina Eddy. It only rarely gets colder than the mid 40s and rarely higher than the low 80s, and December is our sunniest month! We get a condition called May Gray and June Gloom - when the deserts inland heat up, we get overcast gray days, sometimes for weeks at a time... Just in case you wondered.

A Cuban In London said...

'My problem could be that I am glib, incarnate.'

Or the opposite. Over-thinking (I wonder if that word even exists in English :-D)

I agree with Rachel. Keep it simple. That's one of my mottos. If I can be very cheeky and recommend 'Impro' by Keith Johnstone. It is primarily aimed at actors and theatre directors but I used the method successfully as a foreign language teacher in Cuba in the mid 90s, plus occasionally I still use it with my own children when I'm working on their Spanish. It's all about converting that original idea (sans rational thought, mind) into a tangible plot.

Enjoyed the post but I don't think you're enjoying the pressure. :-)

I wish you loads of luck with your heroes and heroines.

Greetings from London.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm much more interested in the 'unheroic'
see Mr.Pooter.
So much of life concerns the ordinary little detail
see Bonnard, Morandi
so bored of movies with catacysmic stuff

give me the
'common round and trivial task'
yes, I would be most interested to read some of your poems
(says a sometime writer herself)

Eryl Shields said...

Golden ~ I think I could happily live where you are, it sounds like my dream climate.

Cuban ~ one of the things I love most about blogging is the book recommendations I'm given, I will certainly put 'Impro' on my list.

In order to get anything done I seem to need to let the pressure build up until I'm about to explode. I then suffer a few days of tail chasing and wailing, but suddenly everything falls into place and I know what to do. I've tried all manner of ways to subvert this process to no avail. Anyway, the nasty bit has passed and now I've entered the lovely phase of understanding once more, thankfully, all I need to do now is write it in essay form.

Elizabeth ~ I have just realised that the whole point of my work is that the characters are unheroic. I don't know why I didn't know that before. I will see Bonnard, Morandi and Mr Pooter, thanks.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Interesting post that sure is bringing about some intriguing and wise comment, of which I now have nothing intelligent to add! ....though I am sitting here thinking I can be wise, I suddenly feel ...not wise!

Eryl Shields said...

Kathryn ~ I think there is only so much that can be said, wisely, of a silly idea.