Monday, October 27, 2008

Getting Organized

I daresay for many artists, for writers in particular and this one's no exception, getting organized about what to put in, what to leave out, and when and where to start is a royal pain in the ass! An ex-wife and ex-girlfriends would attest to the fact that my "filing system" is unique. I call it the "paper-stack method." They had other colorful names for it, but for whatever reason, I can't recall nay, not a one of them...Curious. I am sure my system has roots going back to the first time writers took quill to papyrus--wait, nix that, make it cuneiform stylus to clay tablet! Except then it was much more cumbersome because those tablets were big and hard--talk about stubbing your toe in the dark on one of those mothers! See, compared to that orgy of primitiveness, my elite and elegant method of simply writing and finishing one page, placing it "face up" on the ground, floor or table and thus, gently starting its own "stack," then as I finish the next page in chronological order, I place that page directly on top of the previous page--voila! Organized! I keep doing this until I run out of ideas or additional things to write about connected, even remotely, to the subject of the other resident sheets in the stack. Then a blank paper is put on top of the stack and I scribble the name I am going to give that stack of writing. It might be mundane, like "Chapter three" or more esoteric and cryptic like "thoughts on meaning of term "Barbecue," including Chinese, mathematical, and reputed non-terrestrial meanings." Then, the coup de grace is the connecting of said pages of similar ilk, utilizing some connector device. I prefer the stapler, but strong virgin paper clips are quite acceptable. A newer thing for me is the large two-inch diameter ring (no it's not some sort of sexual aid...) that opens up, then re-closes with a snap. With this gnarly gadget one only needs a hole-puncher to perforate each page in the stack in the same spot (I call it "the P-spot," for Perforation, clearly...)then loop the pages onto the ring and snap it shut. Unlike staples, this method allows for easy access to each page, if one wants to put in another page betwixt, one need not resort to yet another technological contraption (the dreaded staple-remover, cause of so many avoidable workplace lacerations, exsanguinations and blue-streak cursing)! Incidentally, the paper clips must be virgins, not due to some ageist bias, but simply that if they have been "bent out of shape" for some other nefarious use, then "re-bent" back into the rough shape of a paper clip, they are notoriously unreliable and will drop sheets as you carry your prized writing through a windy city intersection. You scream and curse to no avail as chapter seven is scattered to the four corners of the world, with you witnessing at least 2 pages getting stuck on the front grille of a speeding Toyota, and another page or three being claimed as nest insulation by the (perhaps rabid?) family of grizzled raccoons that speedily scamper instantly out of the storm drain as if they somehow knew that "paperclip" was going to blow! So, by all means, if you go with paper clips, get virgin ones--you won't be sorry!

As Columbus Day passed earlier this month without any comment or reflection by this author, I'll again quote the late Mr. Vonnegut regarding what they taught us all in American schools about Columbus and 1492.
1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.
Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Friday, October 24, 2008

Memoir versus Autobiography

Four and a half years ago, when starting out on this venture to write Apeshit, I had to decide on the genre and style I wanted to use. That is, specifically, should it be an autobiography, detailing my entire life, or something more focused, either in chronology, tone or subject? An autobiography is very daunting indeed to think of writing. A huge undertaking! I love a good biography, and have read a few autobiographies that I liked. But most autobiographies, in my opinion, get bogged down with the author trying to be too complete, too detailed. A recent one that struck me so was Bill Clinton's "My Life." Weighing in at a whopping 957 pages, boy, was it ever complete! I like Bill Clinton and admire what he did for our nation, but I could not make it through that tome, mainly for its repetitious style of "recalling people," and I paraphrase, "oh yeah and Billy Bob Johnson and his family lived down the street from us, there in Hope, and they were really good people." Bless his heart, Bill included nearly everyone he ever met and this type of brief description made for a repetitious feel that inevitably made me nod off. Whereas, an example of a gripping, very readable autobiography that jumps to my mind due to the lasting impression it made on me is Carl Gustav Jung's "Memories, Dreams, Reflections." That book is briefer, but very, very deep. I have read it at least 3 times and have recommended it to hundreds of people, for numerous different reasons. But whether recommended therapeutically or not, it just makes for a fascinating read, and was completed near the end of the famous psychoanalyst's life.
So, after mulling it over a few hundred times and trying it both ways, I ultimately decided on the much more manageable (and I believe, more digestible, for the readers) genre of the memoir. Now, think with me please....what was the first memoir that you recall ever reading? Can you remember the author? Something about the book? Its content? If you did recall the book and something in it, what do you feel made it stick with you? Why is it still in the accessible part of your mind's memory? Likely it hit home in some way...touched a common nerve or gave you a new perspective on something vexing or difficult. Or was it something else for you? Please feel free to answer some or any of my questions by clicking on "post comments." I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subjects.
Incidentally for me, the first book I read that was presented to me as a memoir was "Scoundrel Time," by Lillian Hellman. She, as you may know, was a famous playwright and writer, but wrote a few excellent memoirs about parts of her life. "Scoundrel Time" dealt with the era of the "Red Scare" and Hollywood's blacklisting of many writers who were Socialist, Communist, or were suspected of being sympathizers by those with much narrower minds, or even rumored somehow to be associating with those Commie devils. Hellman's lover, Dashiell Hammett, was one of writers who was persecuted under the paranoid period of Senator McCarthy's blacklisting. A dark chapter indeed in American history, recently revisited by Bush, Cheney, and company. But hey, looking on the bright side, that's almost over folks!
Thus, I decided to do a memoir because it is more controllable. One can choose to write about, say, one year of one's life. People who keep diaries have great material for later writing a memoir. I have not, per se, been a faithful diary-keeper, rather I record thoughts, feelings, notions, ideas and such in journals, whenever the muse visits me. I do always date each entry for reference later. I often classify the writing if it is clearly for one memoir or another (I have started another besides Apeshit) or for a short story or other fiction. So, in Apeshit, some years are completely left times for some reason--other times the reason may be that I cannot remember anything significant from that year. Also, I have queried family and friends about certain events and times that I was fuzzy or vague on, but still present only my take on the subject. Indeed that is what makes a memoir a memoir. It is one person's reality as best as it can be put into words. It may contrast with, even be the complete opposite from the way another person, who was present at the same event, recalls. So, know that Apeshit is my memoir, no one else's.

Like in my introductory post, I'll close with another Kurt Vonnegut quote, "if you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why Apeshit?

Besides the literal connotation of the word, "Apeshit," why is my book-in-progress titled so?

I have been asked this question several times by friends and folks who know me, and it is a good one. The book is a memoir and I am the author. I am Andre S. Lange, and what the title conveys is a pop culture slang metaphor for "going crazy" or "mental illness of some sort." This blog will not be a posting of the book itself as it is created, since most of it is already written. However, it will feature some ideas from the book and perhaps at times, include verbatim snippets of Apeshit itself. Incidentally, my surname rhymes with "range", like "home on the range," not "rang," as in "the telephone just rang." Having one's name often mispronounced is enough to make one "go apeshit!"
The book is not only about mental illness--how boring and exceedingly painful a read THAT would be! But, like diabetes, taxes and smoking, Apeshit (which from now on, I will attempt not to put in quotes, but just use synonymously for the title of this book and the vague notion of craziness or mental illness of an unspecified sort. You are welcome!) does touch pretty-much 99.99 per cent of families in the human race. Apeshit also deals with growing up in a red-necked area of the U.S.A., seeing racism in action, getting a job, falling in love, and having one's mind opened in various ways, among other things.
It is my hope that readers of the blog will be able to identify with some of the themes in Apeshit and will eventually want to purchase and read the book. Thus, while continuing to finish the work-in-progress, I will likely occasionally rant about how hard it is to write or create. Please bear with me during those moments, for they will really be auto-therapy! That is, ranting in this blog about my difficulties writing a book about "craziness," without using pejorative phrases like "she's crazy, mommy!" or in any way appearing to make light of the suffering of people dealing with mental illness, will most hopefully prevent ME from erupting like Mount Vesuvius! I will also occasionally post useful (to me, and maybe you) quotes or sayings that seem to fit my mood or the moment. It is with one such quote that I sign off from this "welcome to my web log." My favorite American writer, Kurt Vonnegut (R.I.P.), said a lot of true and often funny stuff. But I found most of the time I could easily identify with him, and he put things bluntly but eloquently.

"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things that you can't see from the center." {Kurt Vonnegut}