Tuesday, May 5, 2015

My Bohemian Summer: or, Current and Upcoming Projects in World-Romanticizing

The world must be romanticized. -- Novalis

Well, the summer of 2015 is shaping up to be an artistically productive one for me. As I described in my last post, in addition to continuing the production of Rainbow, I am now also planning to do a bit of rewriting and even to write an entirely new scene for The Bluebird of Happiness, the draft of which I wrote three summers ago. In the month that has elapsed since that post, however, I have begun to see in my mind's eye an increasing number of other new scenes and images for Bluebird, and I suddenly find myself feeling a renewed inspiration for my earlier story, while not losing any of the inspiration for my follow-up novel, Rainbow.

The upshot is that I am now planning to work on two novels simultaneously. Oh, did I mention that I am also beginning to get back in the mood to write poetry?

Okay, before I get too far ahead of myself, let's take these projects one at a time. First of all, Rainbow. On April 28 the manuscript reached the milestone of 30,000 words. Keep in mind that I began writing in June 2013, almost two years ago now, so the production of my second novel has been proceeding at, let's just say, a leisurely pace. That is actually rather appropriate considering the nature of both the main character, the nonchalant and drifting artist Martin Lane, and the story itself, which could be described as a seemingly plotless wandering back and forth all over the span of Martin's life, not propelled by narrative thrust so much as reverie-like free association.

I should note, however, that the pace of writing has picked up this year. In the last 7 months of 2013, I managed to write just 10,000 words; in all of 2014, only 11,000 words; in the first four months of 2015, I have already written 9,000. I also did a very rough estimate of how much writing I have left to do, based on the number of discrete scenes in my outline, and concluded that the novel may very well extend to 150,000 or more words (in a printed book, this would likely come to 500 or 600 pages). That actually sounds about right judging by where I am at in the story. In any case, I know that I have much more writing ahead of me than behind me, and I hope to really dive in and make much further progress on the story this summer.


Now for Bluebird. This development truly surprises me, but then so did Rainbow when the idea first began to develop in my mind two years ago. As I recounted last time, my quiet but nagging misgivings about (and therefore delay in seeking publication of) the Bluebird manuscript finally led me to the decision to rewrite one section of the story, consisting of a very long letter from the novel's protagonist, the poet Thomas Fairchild, to the object of his hopeless love, Alexandra Grey.

However, in March of this year I conceived of a scene that I liked so well that I decided I wanted to add it to the story. This was a fairly radical decision for me to make, considering that I had considered the story pretty much completed (except for editing and revision of the existing text) as of August 2012, when I finished the initial draft.

And now, in late April and early May, I have found the new ideas for Bluebird continuing to present themselves to my imagination. And not only new ideas, but renewed passion for the story. This is very welcome indeed, especially since I had been putting off and somewhat dreading the rewrite of the letter due to perceiving it as a necessary chore more than an act of inspired writing.

Now, I am actually feeling an excitement similar to what I felt in the summer of 2012in other words, the passion that drove me to write The Bluebird of Happiness in the first place and that also brought my poetry writing to renewed life at that time. Three years ago, both my fiction and my poetry rose to new heights of inspiration and accomplishment. Essentially, that summer of splendor and suffering, as I call it, proved to be a literary renaissance for me.

Of course, that does not mean that my current enthusiasm is exactly the same feeling as what I felt then. Moments in life can never be fully repeated, nor should they, and one important difference between then and now is that this time my inspiration is much less painful. I noted three years ago that the sometimes tormenting, sometimes ecstatic passion I was experiencing was being caused by private emotional upheavals not directly related to the breakup of my marriage which had occurred that spring, but seeming to be precipitated by that event.

It is not entirely clear to me, however, exactly what the source of my renewed passion might be this time. In a sense it does feel like a partial recovery, or perhaps a revival in a slightly different form, of the strange but powerful inspiration that enabled me to finally blossom as both a poet and a novelist three summers ago. And, as always, it would be difficult to explain what this sublime and inspiring vision is in any words other than the stories and poems themselves. Indeed, the vision propels me to write the things I do because these literary works are the only ways by which to communicate it.

So my plan for Bluebird right now is not only to rewrite Thomas's letter to Alexandra but also to write a number of entirely new scenes. More than that, I intend to read through the entire manuscript again (I have only done so once before, in May 2013, when I edited the initial draft) and further edit or revise wherever I may see fit, rewriting the letter (which is near the end) when I come to it and adding the new sections wherever it seems best to place them.

In this way I hope to complete what will essentially be a second draft of the novel, one that brings the work even closer to fulfilling my vision of the story and that helps my first novel to become as powerful and haunting a work for the reader as it has been for me. Whatever else it may be, The Bluebird of Happiness is a story of infinite longing.

Despite their differences, the two novels are informed by the same dreamy Romanticism shared by their respective protagonists, Thomas and Martin, as well as by the two young men's similarly bohemian values, attitudes, and lifestyles. Each expresses this bohemian Romanticism in his own distinctive way, but it forms a common intellectual background to the two novels.

Both stories are quests of a sort. I sometimes think of the two novels as being my own personal Iliad and Odyssey. The Bluebird of Happiness is a conflict (emotional rather than physical) of tragic grandeur and seemingly cosmic proportions, while Rainbow is, as I alluded to above, an apparently never-ending wandering in search of some place (or person or thing) to call home.

Both Thomas and Martin, ever since becoming intimate friends in college, are inspired by Novalis's myth of the Blue Flower. Novalis was a German Romantic poet who created the Blue Flower as a symbol of "some kind of infinite longing, or longing for the infinite, or something to that effect", as Martin expresses it in Rainbow. The symbol comes to have deep personal meaning for both young men for different reasons.

Novalis asserted that "the world must be romanticized". He explained that "to romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery, and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite". Novalis also stated that "philosophy is properly homesickness; the wish to be everywhere at home". In my understanding, philosophy (i.e., the search for wisdom or understanding) is, in Novalis's view, part of the attempt to romanticize the world: which is to say, to see it as a place where one may feel at home.

Both stories, as well as my poems, are, among other things, my own attempts at "romanticizing the world". However, this romanticizing, this striving to see the ideal within the real, is accompanied in my novels and poetry by an unmistakable strain of melancholy, if not pessimism, and an aching sense of perpetual lostness in the world. This tension is perhaps born of my attunement to both the wonder and the sadness of the world, and of my attempt to arrive, through literature, at some deep understanding, if not intellectual then at least emotional, in realms where not philosophy but only poetry can reach.

In any case, I feel that I am about to embark upon my own quest, my own bohemian wandering and Blue Flower seeking, this summer. It will not be an outward journey but one that is inward, across the uncharted wilderness of imagination, intellect, and emotion. Like my fellow poets Thomas and Martin, I may not know exactly what it is that my heart seeks, nor that I will ever find it in this life. But, like them, I have no choice but to undertake the journey, "seeking what truth and beauty may yet be found", one word at a time.

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