The Mirror: a writing exercise

Cardigan Dawn

Cardigan Dawn – copyright 2011 – Paul Vreeland

Early in her novel While I Was Gone, Sue Miller has her protagonist Jo Becker roam through her empty house. That short journey is described, and then,

I stood for a long time in front of the mirror. Flesh, indeed. From time to time Daniel felt moved to say to me, “God, you’re a beautiful woman,” but this was kindness, or love. I examined myself objectively, clinically now. I saw a nice-looking middle-aged person, someone you wouldn’t look at twice if you passed her on the street. And I’d never been beautiful, in fact. I’d been attractive, tall and blond and strong-looking. I’d had a notable kind of energy, and people—men—were drawn to it.

Now, though, when my face was in repose, I looked tired. The downcurving lines at the corners of my mouth made me seem judgmental and stern, even a little pissed off. Sometimes my receptionist, Beattie, a woman I’d known and loved for twenty years, would ask me—out of the blue, from my perspective—“What’s wrong?” and I’d realize my face had fallen into those lines again. “Nothing,” I’d say. And then consciously try to open my face, to make it pleasant. To make it, I suppose, younger. ~ Sue Miller, While I Was Gone

Exercise: Put yourself or another person, real or fictional–perhaps one of your characters–in front of a mirror. Write for 15 to 20 minutes describing what you, he, or she sees.

Painting with Light and the Metaphysical Reality of Literary Photography

World Unity Still LifeUncle Wiggily & World Unity – copyright 2012 – Paul Vreeland

The members of the Carry On Gang, one of the writers’ groups I participate in, recently put their heads down for an exercise of list-making. One lists of the 12 most terrifying or dangerous words, another of the most beautiful words, and a third of the most annoying words. “Reality” was at the top of my most annoying word list along with “real” and “really”– a list of words that I find so overused as to render them meaningless – a list that includes “nice”, “cute”, and “perfect” (as it is so commonly offered by waiters, waitresses and retailers and nearly everyone who wants to pass judgment on my choices). But now I’ve done it. The word “reality” is up there in the title of this post. Tell me it’s not perfect.

The photo above (Uncle Wiggily & World Unity) was taken in the dark. Inspired by the excellent tutorials by Dave Black offered at Kelby Training (http://kelbytraining.com/course/dblack_lightpaint/), I set my camera on a tripod, hung a black cloth over the window, and turned out the lights. I opened the shutter for about 30 seconds, and with a small flashlight, I “painted” the objects with light.  Dave made it look so easy, and his sets were much more complicated than mine. I took twenty, thirty shots before I had a glimpse of satisfaction.

For those of you who read my last post, “Listening to the voice that call, “Come back. I’m not finished with you yet,” – those of you who remember that I promised a shot of the Wright’s Creek foliage, it’s coming up. No. This time it’s not a tease. Keep reading.

It didn’t occur to me that “painting with light” was a theme of the past several weeks until I stumbled upon the breathtaking work of Irene Kung (www.irenekung.com), a Swiss photographer living in Milan, Italy. Check out this short video about her: http://youtu.be/YSFmKxSArgc Irene Kung’s work is a far cry from my still life experiments, and her images will stay with me for some time. They’re worth a study. How I wish that she would offer a tutorial. Sigh.

But what does painting with light have to do with writing and literature?

Enter Mary Ellen. She’s a rather insistent journalism student, a character in my slowly emerging and as yet unfinished novel. Recently she told me to read The Making of a Quagmire, David Halberstam’s account of reporting from Vietnam in the early 60s. Now Mary Ellen says that I’m to read In Cold Blood. She knows that I’ve seen the movie (1967), but that I haven’t read the book. Truman Capote’s ego hails the book as the first “nonfiction novel”, a literary feat opening up a new genre of literature, better known today as creative nonfiction. Interested in the thin line separating creative nonfiction from journalism, Mary Ellen wonders what would have happened if The New York Times had sent Capote to Vietnam and had asked Halberstam to cover the murder of the Clutter family in the sleepy plains village of Holcomb, Kansas.

Literary photography?

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