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The Writer's Brain

With the rest of the world, I've been watching footage of Japan's earthquakes and tsunamis, sympathy and horror in my heart, and awe at the sheer power of simple things like rock and wind and water in my soul.

But even while I watch, praying for the people there, I'm also thinking, taking notes--look, see the things that people in an earthquake and tsunami-prone place in our world do to prepare. See what the waves look like. Remember the flow and the spray, the burning building sailing by, the mud. Remember the terracing, and how it guides the waters. Remember the airplanes and trucks and smashed cars scattered like children's toys by the water. Remember stories of tall buildings built to sway rather than crash, and historic buildings retrofitted with "seismic isolation".

And parallel to that, remember Torn World, whose temporal disaster caused not only massive earthquakes, storms, and tsunamis at the time of the Upheaval, but which is still suffering what might be termed aftershocks of that event as the broken shards of the world have started to heal together again.

And in particular, remember the Duurludirj, who have faced storms, earthquakes, and tsunamis so often that the core traditional building is a houseboat, anchored to the ground with a ship's anchor or two rather than with mortar or cement.

How do they tow their homes out to sea before a storm, if they know it's coming? Do they have winches or draft animals? Do they collect rainwater in high cisterns, and pour it out creating a planned flood to float their homes to safety? Do they simply gather all the neighbors into work gangs and drag their homes past the high tide line?

For the homes built too high (or stranded too high by a previous storm) to run, do they have something to act as bumpers, perhaps wooden porches designed as crush zones if a big enough tsunami does lift them from their mooring spots? Or do they surround their homes with something like our inner tubes, providing air-and-rubber armor to keep the home itself, and the people and resources in it, safe?

And what of the insides of their homes? Do they have railings on their bookshelves? Pictures on their walls? How do they store things? Chests? Cabinets? Bags tied to the walls? How much of their furniture is bolted down permanently--or designed to be bolted down when needed? How much of their furniture is reminiscent of Japanese paper wall-screens--deliberately fragile and replaceable?

Oh--hey--what about commercial buildings? Might they (or at least the ones near the sea) be designed in a modular fashion so that in the event of a tsunami, each section could become, in essence, a separate boat?

I can tell that there will be stories.

My mind is too occupied with the enormity of real world events right now to know what those stories will be. But the writing part of my brain is busy in the background.

What things have you seen in the news footage that I might have missed?


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 12th, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC)
"I can tell that there will be stories."


But (a) is it the right time to even consider telling them and (b) are they ours to tell?

Then again I am writing a novel about World War I, a holocaust of millions. Hmmm...
Mar. 12th, 2011 10:38 pm (UTC)
Interesting questions, just asking them makes all sorts of assumptions about ownership and politeness.

I am reminded of a fight I overheard, a man who didn't want his girlfriend telling people that he hit her. To which she said that what he did to her was her life, and she had a right to talk about her life, and if he didn't want her telling people he hit her then he shouldn't hit her in the first place. If we had not been strangers, I'd have told her "right on!".

Certainly, insofar as the people of Japan want to tell their own stories, that is their right, and is a right that I wholeheartedly support.

It's more complex to ask whether someone else has the right to tell their stories. But when our individual stories are part of someone else's life, we cannot say "you don't have the right to talk about it." I don't get to speak for them--but I do get to speak for me.

People are not only individuals (even though how much I value and celebrate the fact that we are all unique and individual. We are all part of our communities, and all part of the global community as well as the local, especially in this day and age. We are all part of each other's stories.

So, from that standpoint, if something that happens on the other side of the globe affects me, I do have a right to talk about it.

But it seems to me there's another layer here, for I don't hear you questioning the right of news reporters to show the devastation and pain and chatter to the world about it for hours, even when they have no new information to impart. Why question my right more than theirs?

I wonder if it's because I write fiction?

And if it is because I write fiction, what does that tell us about how we think about fiction and its value in the world?
Mar. 12th, 2011 11:15 pm (UTC)
I do certainly question the coverage and have done in my own comments and in other people's blogs. I was out to lunch with my new colleagues and there was a large TV screen up in the corner and a Sky TV woman commenting over looped footage of the devastation caused by the tsunami. One colleague commented, "You can almost hear the glee in her voice". On another LJ friend's blog I call the news footage Tsunami Porn.

I think certainly after a while a huge event like this does belong in the public domain, a bit like Sylvia Plath starting out The Bell Jar by mentioning the Rosenbergs' execution - which was not anything to do with her life per se but which served as the backdrop/introduction.

My concern is that it's a bit early. Too raw. The events are still unfolding. Just for me, I wouldn't feel comfortable looking at the footage and thinking at the back of my head, as I do when my writer brain is on and gathering ideas, "I could use that". It would be like thinking of fire extinguisher techniques while watching the Twin Towers burn and fall while people jumped, to use an example closer to both us geographically. But then again I don't tend to get that response from large international events, more from small examples of character interaction.

I have a high opinion of fiction myself, though - I would have to, to write as much of the stuff as I do :)
Mar. 12th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC)
Ah. My brain seems to have a permanent track set to "Pay attention! Remember this. Think about what words will describe it accurately. You'll want it someday." It doesn't matter if I'm reading or seeing something in the news or in person, I look at tings and think about how they affect people,

This is not unique to me--I have a friend who broke her ankle, and described to me that while the front of her brain was busy going "oh my Goddess" and "Ow that hurts" and "I need to call 911" she also had another part of her brain that was going "oh, so that's what a broken bone feels like, and that's what it sounds like, and this is what it's like to fall unprepared because your leg won't support you, I have to remember all of this."

That track has been there for a long time; it's more consciously associated with writing these days, perhaps because I'm spending more of my conscious time writing.

Of course, I figure all knowledge is valuable--we just don't always know what the value will be. Learning as a child to catch eggs thrown across a picnic yard eventually allowed me to safely catch my toddler who was hurtling headfirst for a concrete floor, having ignored my instructions and tried to take a toy that was too big for her up out of the basement. I would never have predicted that would be a useful skill!

But I thank the Goddess, regularly, that people insisted I must play that stupid game, and that I'm competitive enough that I was determined to be good at it if I had to play the game at all.
Mar. 14th, 2011 08:52 am (UTC)
There's a lot going on, a lot of possible inspirations for stories & for deep-thinking.

I wonder if this catastrophe will affect the Japanese culture and psychie, how much of it will change them as a people as well as dictate future designs.
Mar. 14th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
I'm sure it will, though it will be interesting to see how and to what degree. This has got to be a powerful influence on the future; on the other hand, the Japanese culture developed in those islands, in the company of earthquakes and tsunamis.

On a more personal level, it may be that these tsunami images affected me more than others because I'd already been thinking about the unusual weather of Torn World in regards to earthquakes and tsunamis.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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