June 28, 2008

A Leafy Personality

Seems to me there are lots of books--children's books especially come to mind--about trees with larger-than-life personalities. Trees that become shelters of some kind to kids' imaginations. They become treehouses or forts or just a great place to curl up and read a book with one's back supported. Physically and spiritually the trees are there for support. There is a tree at my family's farm with a short limb about neck-height that is perfect for impromptu chin-ups. I can't imagine it as anything but a chin-up bar. That sort of detail is great for writing. If at first it doesn't seem relevant, just make a note of it and come back to it. It might just hit the spot.

Especially in literature of the South, trees evoke a sense of place and time--whether magnolias or weeping willows or live oaks.

When I think of the Civil War, one of the main images replaying in my head is Union marching along dirt paths as live oaks and Spanish moss blowing in the wind, like in the film Glory. Then of course there is the film Steel Magnolias. Anything about Florida usually features the palm tree in some fashion.

Something to think about when writing: where to put trees, what kind of trees to use, how they build a scene and evoke a certain string of memories.

Southern Places

In a recent interviewer, the subject said that southerners have a stronger sense of place than most. I wonder if that's true. He happened to hail from Claremont in Lake County, Florida.

Another random thought: isn't the city in literature normally a corrupting, evil institution? From the mythical Babylon to Manhattan Transfer to even the Superman comic strip, the city represents not just knowledge but also a degradation of values.

I was thinking about how the Walk across Florida, seen through a literary criticism lens, is basically a romance. A man finds himself and his state in the backwoods, not in downtown Orlando.

I'm patching together a rural photo album of Virginia that I'll post soon with some brief comments.

June 23, 2008

Aaron Sorkin, Genius

I was watching the extras on A Few Good Men the other day and listened closely to what Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter, had to say about the creative process. I noticed once again the classic Sorkin trademark--mixing sports with politics/law. It's no surprise that Lt. Kaffee thinks best with a baseball bat in his hand or that he concludes an after hours legal tangle with the prosecutor by calling him a lousy softball player. Sorkin clearly likes to take his characters off the field but keep them in the game mentally, to throw off the audience and add some comedy.

I'm not sure what to take away from this observation other than the writing habit of looking for double meanings and ways to add depth to scenes beyond politics. Sorkin does it again and again in A Few Good Men, The American President, and of course The West Wing. And people watch them over and over.

Sports isn't really a theme in Lawton's life, but faith is, and so is hunting and fishing--and of course, walking. There are plenty of ingredients for a layer cake of meaning.

June 22, 2008

Southern Movie Night

I just re-watched the 2005 tragicomedy Junebug, a culture clash movie set in rural North Carolina.

As reviews like this one attest, it's a complicated portrait of a typical country family in crisis. What's really fun to chew on for a Walkin' Lawton fellow traveler though is the dialogue. What a linguistic treasure!

From the Dad who wonders "If I was a screwdriver , where would I be?" to the navel orange-obsessed "outsider artist" who claims to collaborate with God on his slaves-with-white-faces murals, it's great escapism.

For me, the film makes me think about the social tension in modern North Carolina, between the mountain folk culture, the Research Triangle, and the coast. This fish-out-of-water story is playing out again and again as the state grows. Heck, NC may just vote for Obama for president--little more than a decade after sending Jesse Helms to the U.S. Senate.

Junebug is the type of Southern film that would never be taught in a Southern politics class, but could and should fit into any such syllabus. It would make for a nice contrast with genuinely political films like All the King's Men and Warm Springs. Just because there isn't an election doesn't mean that politics is at work.

On a similar note, it's also worth mentioning that In The Heat of the Night has been re-released in a special edition format with a few new goodies. I would the say the biggest difference between In the Heat of the Night and Junebug is the use of music to set the scene. Ray Charles's atmospheric theme song overpowers anything in Junebug, obviously. But Junebug has things to say about race, too.

Chiles in the News

A recent news bit about Lawton Chiles Middle School in Oviedo.

Transcription For a Fee

I think I've found an online service that will make my transcription duties a whole lot easier. I'm gonna give it a test run and if it works I'm taking this task off my shoulders for good.