Walking Footsteps Of The Dead


I re-posted the words of Ollin Morales whose voice, along with that of Justine Musk, always soothe and calm me, even when the message is a knock-out punch.  Those voices are not only calming, they help me find my way in the noise of cyberspace and the exhausting hustle social media has become.

Neither of them work it.  Both have enough strength that compels other to work it for them, and do so as a gift to others.

They both represent a fundamental change in how we use language, most likely brought on by the blogosphere, the internet, and the overload of words and buy-me! buy-me! that scream in the silence we spend at our computers.

There’s no reason you should trust what I see, so let me tell you a little story first.  I like telling stories.

Like all mothers, I knew my kid was something special.  Unlike most mothers, I knew my daughter’s uniqueness was a bit odd.  She had a razzle-dazzle brilliance when it came to complex abstractions (I had great conversations with her about infinity, the speed of light, and the human brain’s propensity to create concepts it couldn’t  understand, when she was just five.  She parroted back everything I said in her own words, showing she not only understood but could state it with her own though processes), yet she was dumber than the proverbial doornail in most areas taught in school.  She was showing signs of severe social anxiety by the second grade and was not meeting her potential.

Off we went to an educational therapist for extensive testing.  Five days of it.  Two weeks waiting for the sorting and ordering of results.

I was right.  She was odd.  She didn’t fit the cookie cutter of our education system, but she did fit in a category that was uniquely her own–the unexplained.  One portion of the test was measuring the ability to identify and remember patterns.  The therapist told us our daughter had not only remembered and successfully recreated those patterns five minutes after seeing them, which was beyond the upper limits of excellence, she’d done something the therapist had never seen before.  When she drew the patterns she’d seen, she made an identifiable pattern of the patterns.

She saw order in chaos.  She saw patterns obvious to her but lost in the jumble to others.

Years later, after we’d both accumulated college degrees, we returned to university and studied art.  Our drawing teacher was a Spaniard who drilled us without mercy in the basics.  There was a student to my right who was a gifted artist, but near the end of the semester he was near tears because he couldn’t draw a plain, simple circle.  Jose, our teacher, eased the young man’s frustration by telling him not to worry, circles were deceptive and only a master could draw them without a template.  I leaned back a bit, looked at my daughter’s easel and grinned.  I couldn’t wait until Jose saw what she was doing.  He looked at my attempts at drawing the circle, gave me a reassuring pat, then stopped like death as he stood behind my daughter.  When he came out of his daze, his head snapped towards me, and said, “What did she use?  Where is the template?  Where is she hiding it?  Nobody can do this,” meaning the perfect circle she had drawn without a single mark of erasure to correct mistakes.

Later that evening I asked her how she did do it.  With a shrug, she said she drew what she saw on the paper.  It was easy.  It was how she’d drawn and painted and sculpted everything in her past that had won her awards.

Today, just four years after joining an international corporation as a grunt ticket taker, she’s working with an elite team of creatives in offices designed just for them at corporate headquarters, and working towards a goal established for the team with zero, zip, zilch suggestions on how they’re to meet the impossible goal.  That’s all I’m going to say because she’s signed a NDA, has told me little about her job, but I recognized the design of the offices as what would be built for creatives within a corporation trying the newest ideas in the fields of thought and leadership.

I saw in business patterns her mind was not yet able to see.  But she’s getting the hang of it as I feed her the books and magazines I read.  Now she sees what others on the team have not yet discovered.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but often the tree has no idea of what it’s doing until the apple triggers their mirror neurons.

Trust me on this one.  Patterns are changing.  Think toy kaleidoscopes we had as kids, or RepperPro we visual artists play with for web pages.

There’s a part of speech slowly dying.  We find it in the most prominent bloggers.  Writers of prose are ignoring their existence.  They no longer serve a purpose.  Their absence mirrors a cultural change.

But don’t be fooled, these parts of speech still exist, and they’re used by those not yet resonating with our cultural shift.  And even those at the forefront of this change are using them, but not in abundance, so don’t think that particular darling has been killed.

There.  Catch the difference in those two above paragraphs?  Bravo!  Brava!

Conjunctions are slip-sliding away.  Not needed.  Annoying.  Complete sentences?  In 140 characters or less?  In a world where we connect through the clouds of ether?  No, we’re changing.  In the midst of mass connection through cyberspace, we’re disconnecting more than ever.  And that’s the truth (insert raspberries here, says Edith Ann).

We also have the paradox of long, rambling posts jammed with stimulating thought and tremendous emotion that vibrates along neural pathways, rather than jolting hits of electricity.

Even within rambling posts, we digest in tiny paragraphs.


It’s necessary.

This is not the biggest trend of stepping outside the footsteps of the dead I see.  It’s a warm up, which is another trend.

Big points often come after the reader is romanced of story.  Just a few years ago the battle cry was: Content is king!  Now scoot to Amazon for a search and you’ll find that in business and art story is the queen dethroning the king. Tell me a story, comfort me, easy me to the edge of dreams where I’m most receptive to the moral of the tale, the story of how things are changing told in a voice that quiets my fears of leaving behind the well-worn footsteps of the dead.

I posted about my person Change Up, then re-posted Ollin Morales’s post about shedding old skin.  It seemed pretty cool that someone else was blogging about something that had been roiling under my skin, and I got caught up in thinking how cool that was, because he’s really, really cool and always ahead of the pack. I was flattering myself by thinking I was somehow even close to his zen-to-the-bone sensibilities.

Hubris, like Karma, is a bitch.

It also robs us of what is uniquely our own.

My thing is scanning the horizon and seeing connections between things with nothing in common.

This is what I see:

A whole bunch of personal respect and enjoyment of stories told without author intrusion.  I was bowled over by Jeannette Walls Glass CastleThen again by My Call To The Ring, written by Deirdre Gogarty and Darrelyn Saloom.  I even contacted Darrelyn and complimented her on her Hemmingway-like approach of stepping back and letting the story tell itself.  Of course, that’s an illusion.  It takes great skill with language to “step back.”  You’ve got to know your stuff so well that you become a puppet master using invisible strings.  No easy task, that.  With Glass Castle, Walls pulls off the same mastery.  It’s a story of a horrific childhood, but the author masterfully tells the tale with such command of her tools that it’s the reader who feels the shock and revulsion.  The writer isn’t hammering us over the head with it until we burn out and close the book.  The writer opens a door, invites us in, and allows us to experience the story for ourselves.  That’s good stuff.

It’s also the stuff Hemingway locked himself away every single day creating.  When he’s return from a day’s struggle with language and story, he’d come home with eyes of the insane and need tethering to the earth by a supportive wife who nurtured him slowly back to sanity.  He burned through those wives one right after another and still ended up killing himself with a bullet through the head.

Steinbeck, my personal fav, was a co-creator of this new narrative style.  Like Hemingway, he used up women like napkins, destroyed their lives, then tossed them by the side of the road.  His obsession with changing the face of literature made him obnoxious to be around, to the point that a group of friends reached the breaking point and dangled him by the heels from a second story window, threatening to drop him if he didn’t shut up about his writing and stop making them read his crappy attempts at creating something new and vibrant.  Of course, this was before he won the Nobel and settled in as a hot shot.  Then he got interesting as a person and someone you’d want to spend time with.  If you could overlook the people he destroyed during his quest.

Truman Capote was determined there was more in non-fiction than walking the footsteps of the dead, so off he went down the levels of hell to find it.  He grabbed it from the darkness, climbed out alive and shared true evil in a way that had never been shown before.  Hurray for Capote!  But how about a little heartache for the destruction of the life he had left after diving for that treasure.  He never again walked on stable ground.

These people did not write as a vocation, they were writers.  There was no choice for them, and when there is no choice the best (possibly the only) way of staking one’s own ground is reacting to what has come before and refusing to walk the footsteps of the dead.  Each of them created something new.  Each created as an act of rebellion.

Most of us now walk in their footsteps.

We write damned fine books.

We artfully step back and let the story flow without purple prose, we kill our darlings, we go deep into POV, even if it’s the POV of a lion, we skillfully measure our beats, chart our scenes, pace our tales with strong verbs at the height of our crescendos, soften them as we slide down the other side to give our readers a rest.  We hunt down adverbs and clever turns of phrase, slaughter them as we should, we should, we should, we must.

There is a lot of good shit being written these days, but there are also a bunch of neon flashing lights telling us that change is in the air.

I think it was Tom Wolfe’s From Brauhaus To Our House where he pointed out how creators used to experiment with the past cemented in the future, dig it up, change it up, shed its old skin to create something new, and then the theorists came along, dissecting what just bowled us over and figuring out what they’d done different.  It was Aristotelian–the tools and process were descriptive, not prescriptive.  But now, theory comes first and creators create to the prescribed theory.  It works.

It’s one of the many reasons a lot of us are writing horrible books, or writing pretty good ones but not feeling great about it.

Today I read a post by a prominent blogger that, yet again, hailed the Marys of walking the footsteps of dear dead Hemingway.  Don’t let your clever use of language get in the way of the story, stand back and let the story tell itself, use your tools like a Maestro’s baton and make it flow.  I once witnessed a conductor so into controlling every measure of music and the musicians playing those notes that he skewered his nose with the baton.  Seriously.  You can’t make up stuff like that.  And you can’t keep the music going and growing to new heights when the conductor is bleeding all over the road map.

The performance that night was cut short.

Are we cutting short the performance of our imagination with so many gurus, books, seminars, speakers, rules and tools confining us to the footsteps of the dead?

There are too many gurus chanting the same chant not to sit up and wonder if this isn’t a sign that something new is skipping towards Bethlehem to be born.

As I write this, I know there are writers in dark caverns, ignorant of the tools and rules of writing, playing with the little darlings other writers are killing, and wondering what they can make of them.  If I bend them this way, what happens?  If I put their head where their feet belong, is there some way to make it pleasing and natural?  No?  What if I add some hair on the belly?  What if I take this darling, rip it apart and scatter the pieces all over the place?  What happens?

What happens when creators create out of nothing?  Isn’t that the definition of creation?

Do you like jazz?  If so, I’m sure you know it was created by musicians ignorant of the rules.  Those guys couldn’t even read music, and if they could, they would have scrambled the pages and used them as suggestions for their unique expression.

Where is our unique expression of thought, feeling, experience put on the platform of language?  We’ve got a lot of good writers cranking out works of excellence, but is something shaking under our feet?  Is there a new level of excellence cracking footsteps of the dead?

I don’t know.  I have no authority to say what is and isn’t happening or what is coming.

The best I can do is scan the horizon, read the sign posts I see, and sketch them out with words.

It’s time to stop, play, experiment, be the fool, become an outlaw of the imagination, toss the pages in the air and see where they land, see what I can make of them.

I’m feeling rooted in footsteps of the dead and ready to rebel.

Can you gimme some skin?

PHOTO CREDIT:  Lone Wolf Sand Creation, courtesy of flickr, creative commons license.

4 thoughts on “Walking Footsteps Of The Dead

  1. Ollin

    Thanks for the mention and your kind words! Just wanted to make sure you got my named spelled correctly: it’s Ollin Morales. No worries, a lot of people get it wrong!

    1. cydmadsen

      It’s that astigmatism acting up again. I adore you so much and have followed you for years, and then I flub like this. I’m so sorry. At least there’s a link. Thank you for the gentle reminder, and thank heaven there’s an edit button 🙂

  2. Pat

    Lovely lovely post.
    And people seem to have forgotten that it is OK to try and to fail.
    Failure is not the end of the world, it is only by failing that we find what we were looking for. Most art is about trying and failing several hundred times before the finished product goes on view.
    We forget that we only need to see that finished product. Lots of attempts, lots of playing, lots and lots of giving it a whirl comes before that. Rules maybe, but play and trying stuff out determines the ending.

    1. cydmadsen

      Hi Pat. Thanks for stopping by. Playing and trying new things is so important, I certainly agree with that. There should be some pleasure and fun in creating, but it’s quickly lost when we’re painted in by the lines of rules. My guess is that no matter how different an experiment is, if it’s played with long enough, the rules will still be there but the reader won’t notice them. I think that’s what makes great literature stand out from the good–the puppet masters hand can’t be seen.

      I hope you’re having fun with your work. And thanks again for stopping by.

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