STARTING FROM SCRATCH, BY RITA MAE BROWN

Mon., July 14, 09:34 AM

I first read Rita Mae Brown’s Starting from Scratch, which she calls “a different kind of writers’ manual,” many years ago. (This copy is about twenty-five years old.) I decided to reread it, looking for a clue as to why I can’t write fiction.

 photo startingfromscratch_zps426530c8.png

I did come to some sort of a conclusion, but not what I was looking for, as you will see. Instead, I found myself beguiled by Rita Mae herself; I love her books, but we are about as different as two women could be. Our conversations could turn into, to put it politely, rather passionate debates.

Think about it: one northern, one southern; one conservative, the other liberal; one Jewish, one Christian; one single and happy to be, and the other in a very long-term relationship, a mother and grandmother. One of us is creative, the other, analytical; one is bold, and one is tentative; one is sedentary, and the other athletic; one is right-brained while the other is left-brained. (That last one surprised me, only because I didn’t know anyone else used that terminology.)

I mixed those up, and unless you know me well, you won’t know who’s who. Rita Mae is just enough younger than I to have a different take on a lot of things, and she is more likely to try to move a mountain, whereas I would probably try to find a route around it. All these differences don’t matter, because we still have more in common than you would think.

I understand her belief that every writer needs a deep understanding of Latin, but my take on it is different. Her second year of Latin was Cicero; mine was Caesar’s Commentaries. Caesar was not particularly interesting, and he was also no scholar, so that we spent half our time trying to figure out if he really meant what he wrote. None of my classmates chose to take Latin III.

What I studied with much the same grammar under-standing was German, most especially scientific German, wherein you had better understand your inflections because the words might be in a very different order from what we would expect in English. Of course, my preference was science, not literature; nevertheless, the theory remains intact.

I had also learned to diagram sentences, forming a graphic demonstration of how each word was used. Do they even teach students to “parse” a sentence any more? There were English majors in my business class who did not know the parts of speech.

Whenever I think about creative people, I am reminded of a temp assignment I had, some thirty years ago, at a company with “creative” in its name. As I approached, I remember thinking, “Are you really creative? Because I am not, but I work very well with creative people.”

Yes, some of them were indeed creative, the job became permanent, and we worked together for a long time, through the demise of that company and the creation of another. When I think of the list of helpers Rita Mae suggests a writer should hire… well, that’s the kind of work I do. I support, and I have always been proud to do so.

Going back to left-brained (analytic) versus right-brained (creative), Rita Mae poses an example of Aristotelian logic, properly termed a “syllogism.” As stated, it is incorrect. So my left brain started analyzing it, trying to fix it because, y’know, that’s my thing. I do fix it; it’s the initial premise causing the trouble. In proper analysis, as I learned it, you may question the entities in a syllogism or the connection between two entities. You may not, of course, attack the speaker.

Ready to continue reading, I look at the next paragraph: “you must question every premise.” Duh! We’re doing the same thing. To me, the most important question is “why?” The second most important is “how?” (Example: Why did they do that, and how did they get away with it?)

I have read much of the material from Rita Mae’s reading list. However, I did so without a teacher or guide. A child’s understanding of the stories of Greek mythology, for example, will probably miss the whole point.

In the end, when you talk about absolutes, no one is all one thing. Rita Mae views it as a bell curve, I always viewed it as an acid-base diagram (where most things are not completely neutral).

You’ve heard this, but I’ll repeat it: We are more alike than different. We live in a diverse world, and we lose too much if we segregate ourselves because of our differences. My greatest hope is that we learn to embrace our similarities, even as we continue to honor our traditional values.

Oh, yes, I understand why I can’t write fiction. Mostly, I just don’t have the spark. But also, I am too left-brained to make stuff up; I insist on its being true. A lousy storyteller, but an efficient editor. Ahem.





This journal and its commenting and notification
systems are powered by Movable Type©.



<< Previous | comments (4)