Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Duck Duck Goose

Look at these brand-new little goslings! The Canada geese honk like bumper cars as they fly overhead toward the little pond in our neighborhood. They are vigilant parents. I've seen males valiantly holding off oncoming cars to protect their little family while crossing the street. For anyone who hasn't done so, I strongly recommend watching Winged Migration, the film will deepen your appreciation of the complexity of birds.

The ducks continue to demand our hommage. If there isn't any food left about for them, they quack loudly and wiggle their bums in annoyance. Particularly important to them is fresh water. When I bring them a bowl they promptly dump sand and bark dust into it. Then they rinse their little bills with vibrating back and forth motions. They are such characters!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Conjuring Up the "Original" Story

I saw this article regarding a young author accused of plagiarism on Comcast’s homepage, and it unsettled me in the same way that the James Frey debacle did. I do not, and cannot, know if Kaavya Viswanathan's book was in any way plagiarized, but as a hopeful writer myself, I know that there are no more original stories. I know that sometimes in writing class two of us approach a prompt in strikingly similar ways.

I know this too: there have been times (a good number of them) when I have found passages and themes eerily similar to “mine” in published books, sometimes in good books, ones critically acclaimed or even canonized! So similar, one might wonder …But you see, the books preceded mine, or my stories preceded them sometimes separated by generations. This means I either plagiarized these authors, channeled them through my mystical powers, or that a creative idea occurred in more than one person at different times.

Something tells me I’m not alone in this experience, that writers find this sort of creative overlap quite often. You admire a writer, or a writing style or genre, and you’d be surprised at how easy it is to find your mind manifesting similar ideas—your word choices (being somewhat limited by the options in language, and ours is not one that is gifted with as many options as some) might have a similar “ring." Or maybe you startle when you read something by Julio Cortazar or Charlotte Bronte, and find a passage straight from what you thought was your own pen.

The example set forth in the AP (I’m beginning to dislike and distrust the associated press) article is not convincing to me, as the passage describes a common scenario. Accusing someone of invading your personal space is a regularly utilized phrase, and sticking to leather has, I bet, been documented in more stories than these two.

I haven’t seen further "evidence,” and maybe the author did plagiarize as Tobiass Wolf’s character did in Old School. But in a
Foucaultian sense, I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this industry of comparison and exposure. More and more there seems to be a DEMAND that we prove our authenticity as artists—that all our expression is to the core gen-you-wine. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but it’s as if the anti-art institutions out there are slashing away at the credibility and worth of artistic endeavors. As wordsmiths authors are particularly subject. One of the ways one learns how to create art is via imitation … it’s necessary to find your own groove. Why are we so rabidly seeking to undermine the author these days?

Any thoughts from out there?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Johnny & June

Last spring an amorous pair of ducks wandered into our garage. Against H.O.A. warnings, we fed them. This year they've come back! Quacking, and waddling, and demanding a welcoming feast. They are exceedingly friendly and bonded, and we are calling them Johnny and June after Johnny Cash and June Carter. They enjoy chattering, drinking clean water, and napping under our rhodedendron bush. Spring always brings to me a sense of continuity and ritual. Welcome back to all our resident birds!