Falling Flat, and Powerfully – Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain September 2014

Hi, I’m delighted to be back on the Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain. This month’s prompt is:

“What are your favorite book beginnings and/or endings?”

As a reader, I feel most satisfied with a less-than-satisfactory ending. Don’t call the contradiction police yet! Let me defend myself!

           1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Now, you’re never going to plough through a 1,449-page tome knowing your destination, so I mustn’t give it away—maybe that’s the thing I love so much about this book. Mitchell takes you on a journey so unpredictable you can’t tell where it’s going to end. I mean, every twenty pages an unforeseen plot-twist grabs your insides and twists them into a colonic knot. And then the culmination of all this is a damn anti-climax!


The first edition cover.

Some readers would feel betrayed. It’s as if the writer gives up, not only on her intricate plot, but on the readers who’ve religiously followed and felt alongside Scarlett O’Hara. The non-spoiler version: Scarlett’s goal has been changing at the same rate it’s been slipping away.

Spoilers: Throughout the entire book, Scarlett has an immature desire for her childhood friend Ashley. She meets and marries Rhett Butler, the only man who understands her worldliness, though she doesn’t love him as he does her. A thousand pages later, Scarlett realises she loves Rhett after all, and Ashley was never worth her obsession. But by this time Rhett is bored of her pining for Ashley. His last words, spoken so heart-wrenchingly by Clark Gable in the 1939 film: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, are so completely the opposite of what the reader has been willing all along.

I guess that’s it. The characters’ motives are at odds with the will of the reader. We know if they ‘just’ surrender their pride and fall into one another’s arms, everything’ll be okay and they’ll live happily ever after. That’s all anyone wants, right? But they don’t, because sometimes it’s genuinely impossible to retrace your steps through traumatic events like those shrouding Scarlett’s life. Anyway, that discrepancy is what I love. It’s so…human. And so tragic.

On the other hand, I didn’t like the beginning of GWTW. The first hundred and fifty pages were so stuffed with insignificant details, I guessed they had to be foreshadowing (it gave me a kick later when I was right). But the moment the book took off, I was lost.

         2. Cutting Loose by Carole Lloyd

This book changed my attitude to writing. It turned up under my bed—by providential means, I believe—pages browned as if with lentigos, cover blanched from untoward exposure. A Contemporary Bildungsroman set in the nineties(?), it basically tells the story of a girl’s crappy Christmas, alternating between her looking back from December 28th/29th and progressing with the New Year festivities.

It begins with the protagonist, Charlie, resenting the relentless tone of the telephone and the control it has over twenty-first century human beings, and believing herself irreparably changed from her rubbish Christmas. But over the next forty-eight hours, as she reflects on what has changed her, she realises she’s as selfish and hypocritical as ever. It’s a journey through levels of maturity, condensed into a small time-frame to augment the intensity and inconstancy of human perception. Charlie easily convinces you she has nothing left to learn, until the final chapter where she goes back on all her judgements of the past days and…well, takes the advice of her enemy and buys ‘some whacking great earrings’.

When I first read it a year or two ago, it resonated with my own teenage moroseness, insincerity and pretensions to maturity. Now, even though I pay more attention to the way it’s written, the ending still echoes something comfortingly lifelike. I can only describe it as a sigh of resignation.

          3. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Again, classic. Again, anti-climax. Again, Bildungsroman. Next time I read it I have to count the times I expected Holden to get laid…and he didn’t. Not once. I mean, we didn’t even get to meet the girl he periodically mentions (Jane Gallagher). The entire thing is a ball of wool-fluff expectations that amount to nothing. That kind of book ignites my internal fires far more than a high-stakes fight scene.

Again, first edition cover.

Again, first edition cover.

I suppose, by using Holden as an example, I’m also exhibiting something masochistic. The informal, authentic (albeit unreliable) way Salinger writes draws us into Holden’s mind in a faintly disturbing manner: we share his suppressed angst and rampant hormones, his stream-of-consciousness-style evocations, and the seemingly far-fetched connections so true of our own thought processes. Reading Holden is reliving the tragedy of our own special human madnesses, loving and hating them…and now I’m in danger of getting poetic without point, so I’ll leave it there.

As ever, I’m interested to hear your thoughts. But make sure you check out everyone else in the chain, too:

7th – http://vergeofexisting.wordpress.com/

8th – http://zarahoffman.com/

9th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

10th – http://www.elizamcfarlish.weebly.com/

11th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/

12th – http://irisbloomsblog.wordpress.com/

13th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

14th – http://fantasiesofapockethuman.blogspot.com/

15th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/

16th – http://magicandwriting.wordpress.com/

17th – http://ttkesley.wordpress.com/

18th – http://www.brookeharrison.com/

19th – http://www.freeasagirlwithwings.wordpress.com/

20th – http://roomble.wordpress.com/

21st – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

22nd – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

23rd – http://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

24th – https://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/ – YOU ARE HERE!

and http://www.paperdaydreams.com/

25th – http://write-where-you-are.blogspot.de/

and http://theedfiles.blogspot.com/

26th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/

and http://anmksmeanderingmind.wordpress.com/

27th – http://semilegacy.blogspot.com/

and http://dynamicramblings.wordpress.com/

28th – http://oliviarivers.wordpress.com/

and http://randommorbidinsanity.blogspot.com/

29th – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/

30th – http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/

Eloquence, Confidence and Power (bonus points if you note all the ironies)

Music: Radiohead – Life in a Glass House (some damn good trombone!)

A few evenings ago I was beneficiary to an observation about eloquence, confidence and POWER. “You can be the cleverest person, but if you can’t express* your intellect, you have no power,” thus the observer (WTTE). I blushed and said something stupid, perhaps proving his point.

Upon reflection, it seems even more alas! plausible than it did to my subconscious psyche in those few seconds. People in power, sure they’re clever, but politicians have that ‘sparkle’, that intensity: instinct or even the art for rhetoric. It’s not knowledge that empowers you (scientia potentia est, as attributed to Sir Francis Bacon), but application thereof.

For example, education over recent decades has made a significant shift from fact recall to structured analysis. My mother spent her schooldays learning every precise geographical feature of a series of maps she was expected to be able to hand-draw—dimension and all, to the last contour. Now they’d give you the map and tell you to analyse it: what does this feature mean and how might it impact the surrounding environment (or whatever; I’m no geographer)? We are expected to THINK.

The few truly eloquent teenagers I meet are instantly my favourite people. I’m not impressed by wit, necessarily (especially not the snitzy tumblr kind, though that can be mildly amusing for a short period of time), but an insight into the world and its ridiculousness, a fine vocabulary and the deft conduction thereof will surely ‘win my heart’. Indeed, that ain’t me.

And with that I wonder about positing a different formulation of the eloquence-power relation. I find, myself, that associating with these superior verbalists as described above somewhat dissolves every particle of wit and interest from my own ego. If I have not already proved myself confident and eloquent (neither of which I’d call myself, thus I falter at the first clause) to a word-wielder, I genuinely cannot do so thenceforth.

Through no fault of his own, the person who gave me the subject of this post is one such creativity-sapper (as far as I’m concerned). Why, I ask myself, when I get on so very well with people who don’t use my beloved words like he does?—and there it is. Other people (and this isn’t meant to sound swanky) I can outwit, out-math, out-music, out-vocab, out-mock, out-run, out-age. Even if all else fails, I can mention God or church (again) and get an exasperated glare. POWER. The only power I have over this person is that I can write a damn good blog post (1. when I stop talking about myself; 2. when I can be bothered; 3. ahem, I need your support, to cover this ugly boasting), and even then, I’ve never read his writing. All fails!

My point, ladles and jellyspoons, is that one may have eloquence, but without also that beautiful gift of confidence-regardless-of-whatever-power-you-have-or-don’t-have-as-the-case-may-be, you will not have POWER.

‘Blind confidence’, my observer called it. ‘Well-judged confidence’, I corrected him. In retrospect, ‘blind confidence’ is pretty much it, except I’ll change ‘blind’ to ‘unconditional’.

So, POWER is internal and external, and without the former you can’t have the latter**. That’s why earnest compliment-fishing only earns pissed-off stares. Alas for me and many! insecurity gets you positively nowhere.

What a failing: that I love to assert myself, but am so petrified of failure that those against whom I’ve ‘already’ ‘lost’ never get to know I can assert myself. Hierarchy turned on its head, if ya like.

Lesson over. Add your thoughts; contradict mine 😉


*vocal expression and execution, that is

** I wouldn’t wish to pose that as a rule. ‘Confident’ people may be less respected than those quiet people who necessarily have weight (though it could be argued that they do have inner power, but don’t externalise it consciously; other only people ‘feel’ it). And, of course, there are ‘confident’ people who are everything but inside (this is the hard one, and it might involve a redefinition of POWER—yeah, should’ve done that before I began talking about it. Your call!).