As I was in NOLA, stuffing my face, over the last weekend, we skipped from Day 6 to Day 12 here in Revisions Paradise.
The good thing is that my trip was actually really productive, workwise, and it was also really inspiring.
I think between here and the League I’ve droned on long enough about how much I loved NOLA, and how the city gave me tons of ideas and images, as well as tons of happy karma that I am spreading through my work.
More importantly, however, was that I remembered how much I love words. As I said, I was attending the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival with a friendÂ who is a poet. I paid for a day ticket to see my friend’s two panels, and they were great. One was a panel in remembrance of a poet who died last year, Reginald Shepherd. I’m really, really behind when it comes to contemporary poetry, so I wasn’t aware of Reginald’s work. But there were a lot of readings done of various poems during the panel, and they were beautiful. I mean heartrendingly lovely: full of brilliant imagery, eroticism, and life. Even his poetry about his own imminent death was full of life, a beautifully crafted example of the horrifying paradox Philip Roth calls our human stain: the fact we must live with the knowledge we shall die.
The other panel I attended was a reading done by a group of men, including my friend, Chris, who’d contributed essays to a fabulous anthology called My Diva. Each essay was about a particular female icon that had been that man’s diva when he was younger. Chris wrote a lovely piece on Princess Leia, and there was another essay on Auntie Mame that made me tear up. Anyway, all of the essays read were great, and all but one of them wrote on figures from popular culture. Which reminded me of my own childhood and how very important my fantasy heros and heroines were to me. They weren’t figures of high culture, or high art. Hell, they weren’t real people doing real things. But I was so convinced, at the time, that Mercedes Lackey’s Vanyel, or de Lint’s Ally, from Greenmantle, had something to teach me. They obviously spoke to me, as I read their books till they were in tatters, but there was more to it than that.
What I’m trying to get at, in my own roundabout fashion, is that I know the stuff I write isn’t the stuff I study. I’m not writing Literature; I’m not Philip Roth or A.S. Byatt or Iris Murdoch. But I think that beauty can lurk in unexpected places and I also think that those who ignore the importance of popular culture do so in self-inflicted blindness. Our brightly colored paperbacks might not hold sway at academic conferences, but they mean so much to so many people that they do have a tremendous power. Most overtly, it is the power to entertain, the power to help people disengage with their mundane lives and let their imagination run rampant. In doing so, however, the author has a unique opportunity to guide their readers from image to image and from idea to idea. And I think that fantasy, especially urban fantasy, which integrates the Other into our own landscape, making the familiar seem frightening and the otherwise frightening appear familiar, has so much to teach about tolerance, acceptance, and that genuine sense of adventure and curiosity that, to me, defines a good life.
So I learned a lot last weekend, and was reminded of even more. Thanks to everyone involved at Saints and Sinners, and to all of the wonderful poets and writers that I met there. You guys were amazing!
5 thoughts on “Tracking the Tempest Revisions Diary: Day 12”
Nice post, Nicole! I think people make too much of literature sometimes. I remember a time when a housemate made fun of a friend of mine because she liked to read westerns, like Zane Grey. She thought they were trashy and worthless. I tell you, my head almost exploded. My housemate shut up quick as soon as I challenged her to prove to us how and why the words written in her "literature" books were more "worthy" than those written in my friend's Zane Grey books. That kind of narrow mindedness really pushes my buttons, you know? As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter what you read, as long as you're reading. I've found that the more you read, the more you will read, and that reading keeps your mind flexible. Frankly, I feel sorry for those literate people who limit themselves to only those books they are told are worthy of them. I'd rather read everything and make up my own mind, thank you very much!
It sounds like your festival was a great deal of fun. I'm hoping to visit the Big Easy one day myself. Before that, though, I will be heading for the Western Caribbean next winter to track down some pirates. Would you like me to bring one back for you?
The line between "high" literature and… that other kind ::winks:: is fuzzy and seems to vary frequently. The hero's journey exists everywhere from ancient epic to Harry Potter. Courtly love from Chaucer to Stephanie Meyer.
As story tellers, our stories are as varied as we are, and that diversity makes for great fun. What is beautiful about literature is the undestanding of what it all has in common: the ability to engage readers and to make something out of nothing.
New Orleans is awesome. I discovered it when I was about 15 and didn't let go of it for about a decade. It's magical and haunting and inspiring. The best thing I ever had happen was a street performer singing "In the Garden" to me at 3 a.m. as I sat on a curb drinking a black and tan.
Ah, the days that have passed.
As for the distinction between high and low literature, I'm up front about it. I am a b-movie fan and a paperback novel reader all the way around. 😀 I'll take Mickey Spillane over Jane Austen just about any time.
For the record, I do understand what everybody's talking about, though.
I think you said it beautifully. Of course, there's no need to write yourself in as an "urban fantasy" author. You're an "author" in "reality" and in "fantasy" and you can re-shuffle the pre-existing cultural codes and conventions the moment you choose. I mean, we all grew up on "Loony Tunes", right? Classical masterpieces in these cartoons serve to add expression and meaning to loony, animated characters that began a pop-culture canon. Musician and composer John Zorn's styles range from free jazz to Igor Stravinsky to easy-listening exotica. The only thing that TRULY separates the urban from the urbane is the "letter e" and you can type it or delete whenever you like. 🙂
Zita: I SO want a pirate! Maybe two? 😉 And I totally agree with your comment about whatever gets people reading is a good thing. That's how I feel when people gripe about Twilight. Whatever gets people reading is awesome, cause once they get hooked they'll be hooked for life. Like with crack!
Katie: That was lovely, and that's what I'm most proud of with TR. I think it's a good story, and I always wanted to be a storyteller. My elementary school principle was a really amazing storyteller on the side, and I always wanted to do what he did. 🙂
Driftsmoke: I used to LOVE me a black and a tan. Although nowadays I'm partial to straight Guinness. And I'm comfy in both worlds. I have a membership to our independent film center, and I have a Ph.D. in "real" literature. But I also cry every time I watch Transformers (I'm not kidding) and I write UF. I think both the high and the popular have important roles in our lives and in our culture.
Anon: That is lovely, thanks for the post! Classic cartoons are such a great example of the subversive potential of things that are often dismissed as merely "popular" in our culture.
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