Where I’m at Wednesday January 29, 2014
I have a confession. Once I am finished with chapter 20 of The Omphalos of Delphi, I will stop working on it momentarily. I am working on another project, getting it ready to go to the editor. It will take about a month for me to run through my manuscript, fix grammatical errors, and reread for continuity. After that, I will resume The Omphalos. I am continuing the “where I’m at”, but only for the writers’ benefit. A much needed break will help my mind wander. 😉
“It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing and plunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar of voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and discordant dim that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng; rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confounded the senses.”
* —Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist
Did you read that? Wow!! Dickens has such a way with details. You are catapulted into the busy Smithfield live-cattle market during the 1800s. The very first thing I can envision is the stench—“ankle-deep, with filth and mire”. I am sure a person could smell the market blocks away. Then Dickens tantalizes our senses by the sights, describing the fog, the animals, and the various types of people within the center. The sounds of whistling, barking, bellowing, bleating, grunting, squeaking, cries, shouts, quarrelling, ringing, and roar become overwhelming. He finishes off the paragraph by suffocating the reader—feeling as though they are being compressed by a crowd. Personally, I would flee from such a place.
Being a writer or painter, you dream with your eyes open. We try to figure out the mystery of “how to add the natural elements into our work”.
Like many of us, I started at an early age. Around sixth grade, I wrote several short, macabre stories of haunted places or mysterious glowing eyes, but then my writing matured into poetry and novels.
As a child, my time was consumed with the natural world of plants, animals, and insects. One of my most favorite things to do was to sit quietly and listen. Some of the best moments or most entertaining things happened: squabbling birds chased each other; wind blew through the trees, causing a noisy surge; ants collectively worked without a clue that a giant looms overhead.
Today, I still love to do this. I like to be alert of the world around me, and not just the manmade world called “city”, but the real, natural world.
During the wintertime, hawks migrate to Phoenix. They come down from the mountains and forests to enjoy the warmer temperatures. On countless occasions, I have noticed people walk around oblivious to the scenes of large birds soaring above.
Be aware of your surroundings. Or, if you are writing about a place you’ve never been to—research the terrain, city, and life. In studying Greenland, I engorged my mind with several videos on YouTube to add the feel of the cold, landscape, and native peoples.
Charles Dickens grew up under such conditions. He is a master of imagery because it was the world he observed.
I will give another vivid illustration:
“In half a quarter of a mile’s length of Whitechapel, at one time, there shall be six hundred newly slaughtered oxen hanging up, and seven hundred sheep but, the more the merrier proof of prosperity. Hard by Snow Hill and Warwick Lane, you shall see the little children, inured to sights of brutality from their birth, trotting along the alleys, mingled with troops of horribly busy pigs, up to their ankles in blood but it makes the young rascals hardy. Into the imperfect sewers of this overgrown city, you shall have the immense mass of corruption, engendered by these practices, lazily thrown out of sight, to rise, in poisonous gases, into your house at night, when your sleeping children will most readily absorb them, and to find its languid way, at last, into the river that you drink.”
* —Charles Dickens Household Words article in March 1851
I love how period piece movies make the 1800s overly romantic. The Aristocratic societies with castles and beautiful clothing seem intoxicating; however, when you read Charles Dickens, the perspective changes from the dreamy image into a putrid, sad tale. Throughout his stories the characters seem colorfully real besieged by hardship.
If you can’t make it real to yourself, it won’t be real to the readers either.
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