Saturday, November 12, 2005

In which Julie natters on about Flaubert, crackers, spiders and the nature of originality

I read a Flaubert quote recently that got me all excited: "Be regular and ordinary in your habits, like a petit bourgeois, so you may be violent and original in your work." Gosh! I thought. How dramatic! What an inspiring ethos! I wonder if it works? And if it does work, is the reverse true? For example, if you're violent and original in your habits, say, does it stand to reason your work will be regular and ordinary?
So to test this little ethos, I did an inventory of my "habits"… and that's when confusion set in. Because, frankly, I don't know whether my habit of eating rye-sesame crackers over my keyboard while I'm writing is "ordinary," but I certainly do it so "regularly" that I just had to pry my "D" key up with a paperclip in order to free a sesame seed that was stuck under there and hindering the "D" key's ability to make "D's." And I certainly rather violently and vainly struck the "D" key a few times before I actually realized something was stuck under there and causing problems, but I'm not sure whacking the "D" key was very original.
In truth, it was kind of hard to test the reverse of this little ethos, because I'm not sure I really have any tendencies that can be remotely construed as violent…for example, last night I herded a spider the size of the first joint of my finger around in my bathtub with a Tupperware container so I could catch it and put it out on the back porch rather than squish it. I squealed the whole time I was doing it, granted, but I did catch it. See? I'm a pacifist.
Is my habit of letting the garbage get as tall as possible before I take it out "ordinary" and "regular?" See how difficult this is? Maybe Flaubert was just full of it.
So I thought I'd look at it from the reverse: are THE RUNAWAY DUKE, TO LOVE A THIEF, and BEAUTY AND THE SPY (out in March 2006—hello book plug! Can you blame me??) violent and original? If so, maybe my habits ARE ordinary and regular. Well, in looking at the three books, we have a little gunplay, some fisticuffs, a bit with a knife, but nothing too terribly violent. As for original…well, it's not like I reinvented the wheel or anything, but I kind of like to think they're all quite original, thank you very much.
So much for my new ethos. It's a nice idea, but I don't think it works that way—in other words, I don't think applying your energy sparingly to one part of your life builds up any sort of artistic reservoir that you can unleash at will. I think people who are compelled to create (whether it's a work of fiction or a painting or what have you) experience and interpret even the mundane elements of their lives in vivid, original ways, even if only in their thoughts, because they simply can't help it. And the seemingly mundane things—brushing your teeth, dropping the kids off at school—often fuel creative work. It's all of a piece.
In other words, I fully intend to keep eating crackers over my keyboard.
Julie Anne Long
March 2006


Paula Quinn said...

I'm having a "Holy crap, I have no idea what this scene (in my new book) is going to be about" day, and your post made me smile. I needed it.
Yay for you for not killing the spider! What's that old saying? Can't remember.
And crackers in the keyboard? Oh, Julie, welcome to my world.

Julie Anne Long said...

Hey Paula -- yeah, I fear my keyboard is practically a buffet now. LOL. God know what would tumble out if I gave it a good shake. Hey, maybe there's some MONEY in there...