PENTIMENTO: I am an unabashed, unashamed fan of Jane Fonda. The first time she really hit my radar was in the hilarious 9 to 5 when I was a kid. I think I saw that movie four or five times in the theater. As I grew older, I started searching out Fonda's other work and fell in love with her even more - On Golden Pond, The China Syndrome, They Shoot Horses Don't They, Klute and, most of all, Julia. Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave were brilliant in that film. It remains in my top five favorite movies and in June, it's finally coming out on DVD. I'll be in line the first day to buy it. I'm also writing an essay on the film for SubtleTea, which has published some of my other cinema pieces. I'm also about to start reading Fonda's biography, My Life So Far.

Julia resonates with me because of Fonda's portrayal of playwright Lillian Hellman. Of course, many have debunked the Julia story, which originally appeared in Hellman's autobiography, Pentimento. Some critics and associates say Julia never existed, and that Hellman's tale of smuggling money inside a hat into Berlin to help the resistance in World War II is complete fiction. The chapter on Julia and the film start with this quote:

Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent.When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on the open sea. This is called pentimento because the the painter "repented," changed his mind.

That line always gives me goosebumps, especially when Fonda narrates it over the image of Hellman sitting in a boat on gray day, casting her fishing line into the placid lake. And maybe the line affects me because I identify with those words as a poet. We are constantly changing our minds, erasing words, stanzas, entire poems. In my notebook, I can see where I've crossed out words, or erased them haphazardly. I always wonder if I've made the right choice. I try to be as honest as possible (maybe too honest) in my poetry. Somehow this adds balance to my fiction writing.

I'm re-editing the first half of Conquering Venus using recommendations and suggestions from the editor who recently rejected it. He's willing to look at it again, so I'm making the effort. Since the novel is partly autobiographical, set in Paris and involves some intrigue, it always reminds me of Julia. Many of the things that happen in my novel actually did happen, but there are other parts that I have totally made up. I've fabricated situations, incidents and combined two real people to make one character. It's been 10 years (oh, my god) since that first trip to Paris gave me the idea for Conquering Venus. As I've been editing and rewriting the first chapters, the real and the fiction have slightly merged in my mind. I was reading over the weekend and found myself having to sit back and contemplate, did this really happen, or am I making it up? It's funny how time does this. When I'm working on the novel, the trip seems like it happened yesterday, and as I write this, it feels like everyone of those 10 years.

Conquering Venus was created in almost a state of automatic writing, as if I was in a trance. I spent four or five years shaping that rough draft, and the shaping continues. As I read the words and dialogue, sometimes it feels like the story was written by someone else. Maybe that's a good thing. Since I've started this re-edit, I've been able to separate my feelings and look at it with a more critical eye...see the flaws. Just a few years ago, I was of the mind the book was perfect and I was reluctant (okay...belligerent) when it came to making changes. I credit poetry with helping me be more objective.

My good friend and poet Cherryl Floyd-Miller recently wrote a very flattering post on her own blog about me. In the entry she said these words:

One of the best things a writer can know about himself at any given time, besides knowing that he is indeed a writer, is knowing where he is with his craft... We go through phrases. We evolve. We come back to places we've already been. It seems that's the journey of writing - hash, rest, rehash, rest... One can only be a flawless whole note some times, not every blessed hour. Sometimes, what is required of you is rest... to BE at rest.

Cherryl wrote this in response to a comment I made after the reading of my play The Dark Horse earlier this year by Theatre Gael. I told Cherryl that while I enjoyed hearing those words brought to life again, I was totally not interested in playwrighting or theatre at this point in my life...I wanted to totally devote myself to poetry and fiction. Reading Cherryl's reaction today, also reminded me of Julia, because her words gave me the same goosebumps that Hellman's did. Maybe it's because Cherryl so perfectly put into words the often serpentine nature of writing. While I was horribly disappointed at Conquering Venus being rejected yet again, being able to tear into the work again...to revisit this part of my life, to still find joy in the act of sitting at a desk and writing, fills me with so much pleasure. Sometimes this appreciation gets lost, especially with my day job, dealing with "po biz" (that's poetry business for those outside the bubble...consider yourself lucky) and the other myriad challenges life throws at you.

I've decided that after my trip to New York in June, I'm going to take a break for a few months, take myself "off the market" so to speak. I want to devote that time to the craft of writing...both poetry and fiction. This decision was also informed by Stephen Bluestone, who urged me to put aside my impresario tendencies and focus more on the writing. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE performing, traveling, meeting other writers and putting other writers I love in front of an audience. However, for me to be able to keep performing, to keep the situation fresh, I have to step back for a bit and redevote myself to what got me to this point in my life in the first place: writing.

I'll also be thinking about the other part of Lillian Hellman's quote from the opening of Pentimento:

The paint has aged now and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.

Comments

BLUE said…
dear sweet Buddha! (lol) this is such a moving essay (yes, i said "essay") about *process* that i want to use it in my classes (may i?).

you nailed the heart of what the journey is all about and have been able to get back to what matters - the sweat ... the glorious sweat. this (along with "Credentials" and "Why I Want To Be Pam Grier" ... and "AIDS Suite" ... and that last "Bitch" poem) may be my favorite piece of Collin Kelley writing to date (of the things i've been exposed to).

don't get me wrong, you have tons of great work, but there is something magical about the way you find the pulse of things in the works i've mentioned. as you are revising VENUS, remember that you AREN'T the same man who wrote it. he was more infected with the muse and had no clear eye for re/visioning the work. he could not see that the part of the canvas that held the tree would inevitably show through the boat (did i say that right?) he thought he'd covered his white space quite well ... that if he simply covered up the "earlier" art, it would not show through the cracks. (TIME is a helluva snitch, you know.)

and all the things that appear in your novel DID happen ... just maybe not in (reality/)paris. you've got to make us see it the way that it happened. i have tons of stories about the five months that Seneca Pillan lived in my house. i talked to her at the oddest times ... and i talked to others about her as if she lived in the same space (but she did, didn't she?!)and Alice Walker (the woman you've labeled my literary mother) has a beautiful essay about crying when it was time to say goodbye to all the folks in Color Purple.

breathe through it and write the damned thing like an editor is not waiting for it. love ... long-winded BIG LOVE!
iconpoet said…
the natural process is to continue to write , write and re-write. stepping away from a scene just to breathe is a good direction , if it catches you up with life and the thought grid. becareful, take only the time needed to clear you lung, catch that second wind and come out swinging .
love you -lady
Collin said…
Thanks for understanding and the support guys. I'm thinking of this as "summer vacation." Kinda like when you were in school and got those three months off to play and just have fun. That's what I'm planning to do...have fun with the writing. Move to the next level.
Anonymous said…
This is a great post! Hope you enjoy your time off...although I suspect you wont' be out of the spotlight for long.

GAV
Teamaster said…
interesting words on the writing process. i think a break is wise - and deserved. enough honey for now, busy bee!

-D.

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