Saturday, August 9, 2014

Notes from Barcelona: Aleksander Hemon

I always knew that if I went back to school it would be to get a degree in creative writing. That's how I ended up in the Cedar Crest College Pan-European MFA program. That's how I ended up in Barcelona.

When I wasn't bingeing on gelato and calamari, I was immersed into the culture (religion, architecture, pop-culture, art, language, and literature) of Catalonia.

On weekdays I attended classes at Ateneu Barcelones where lessons ranged from writing in the vernacular to flash fiction. My professors, who I had already anticipated would be great, BLEW MY MIND. (When I explain it to my family and friends, I literally do the explosion gesture off my temples.) In the spirit of sharing the love, I'll be posting my favorite morsels over the next few posts.

We're kicking off with Aleksander Hemon, author of The Book of My Lives and The Lazarus Project. He also writes for The New Yorker and showed up to class in shorts and a grey tee with two pigeons printed on front. More than once he dropped the cap of his dry-erase marker, and more than once he nicked his shirt with the ink tip. Erasing it smudged the spot. I wish I could've captured every last word from his mouth and bottled it to chug like some sort of writing Mt. Dew. But since he's a native of Sarajevo, I had a two-second delay interpreting his accent. This'll have to do.

  • Consider having an organizing principle or composite structure to your piece. Make it a shape.
  • As writers, we can only represent one part of humanity. Much of literature does just that.  
  • Literature gives a window into humanity that no other vehicle can. 
  • Can you add metonymy? A part to represent the whole? 
  • Literature helps us understand something about the human mind and appreciate the artifice or "cathedral". 
  • We build "cathedrals" so that we can draw people to the emotion. 
  • "Language is biological." 
  • "We are composite people."
  • "Discontinuity is the default way to process the world. It's an acquired skill to put it together."
  • Imposing order on the chaos is what literature does.
  • We create to compensate for the things we can't forget. 
  • In life, in non-fiction, forgetting is an editing principle. You only remember the important things. The remaining montage is the story. 
  • "We are not passive, especially as writers. We create culture."
  • For memoirs, lay down the memories you feel compelled to write. You'll gravitate to some scenes. Enter the space and spend time there. Motifs will rise from the words. Organize by delineating and select "furniture" to go with the space. 
  • "The only Sting song that comes to mind is 'do-do do do. da-da da dad." 
  • "Nostalgia has the veneer or sheen that life was better".
  • When writing, remember that "it's all [crap] until it isn't. Editing requires stamina. And we're entitled to our failures."

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