Monday, June 02, 2008

Pyschogeography (Yes, I'm going deep)

So on Saturday, I went to a roundtable at The Philoctetes Center on Pyschogeography which I thought might be dry and over my head but actually turned out to be quite interesting and made me do a lot of thinking afterwards. The definition on the flyer was this 'Psychogeography—the impact of landscape on the senses and on memory—will be considered from literary, child developmental, and neurological perspectives. The discussion will make specific reference to the changes of scene brought on by immigration and urbanization, in addition to addressing nostalgia for simpler modes of existence.'

Sounds incredibly lofty doesn't it? It was moderated by Matthew von Unwerth who started off the discussion by talking about how some of his earliest most pleasant memories had to do with nature. Which was funny for me because one of my earliest memories having to do with nature was traumatic! Its actually one of my earliest memories. I was about 3 or 4 years old, and we were upstate at our house. We had just gotten out of the car, and I went skipping off along the flagstones carrying a bag of Brach candy when a snake came slithering out from under the flagstones and scared the crap out of me. The bag of candy went flying, and I ran right past my mother, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and climbed up my father's leg, crying. My mother later told me that it was nothing more than a garden snake but when you are 3, a snake is a snake.

Of course I do have pleasant memories later of nature. I remember walks in the woods at day camp, passing the skunk cabbage, a smell that will never leave my brain. I remember rowing on the pond, and the skanky smell of the water. I remember going swimming in the pond near our house upstate, the brackish water, the vegetation that used to grab at our legs. My niece and I used to race each other to see who could get to the raft floating in the middle of the pond first.

Andre Aciman and brought up a point about Manhattan that I thought was interesting. Vito Acconci, another panelist, was born in the Bronx bought went to school in Manhattan. For most people who care coming to New York or who live in the outer boroughs, Manhattan is like this beacon, the green light at the end of the dock in The Great Gatsby. No one who comes to NYC comes to live in the Bronx, or State Island or Queens, they want to live in Manhattan. Such a small island to contain so many people's hopes and dreams. A member of our chapter, always had a dream of living in Manhattan which she fulfilled for one year, before she moved back to Queens!

Growing up in Manhattan, I wasn't really conscious of how other people felt about it until I went to college or traveled outside the city and met people from Europe or other states. Then I began to see the city through their eyes, and it gave me a different perspective on my home. New Yorkers, particularly those of us who are natives, love to complain about how the city has changed and how much better it used to be. The biggest example is to talk about how much better 42nd Street was when it was seedy, disgusting and full of porn theaters and prostitutes as opposed to now when it has become Disneyfied. And my parents could talk about what it was like before it became seedy and disgusting!

My father always had a love hate relationship with New York. He couldn't wait to retire so that he could move to our house upstate full-time. My mother on the other hand would have died if she had to live upstate full time. I feel the same way. Even though I may not go to the museums all the time, I need to know that they are there, that Lincoln Center is there, that I have the options.

I was watching this movie called The Clock yesterday. Robert Walker plays a young soldier from Minnesota who comes to New York on leave. He's exiting the old Penn Station (another lament of New Yorkers!) and as he steps outside and sees all the tall buildings and the horde of pedestrians, he quickly scurries back inside the train station to safety. He's just not ready to venture forth until he meets Judy Garland and they go forth and have adventures in New York.

I remember when I spent my semester abroad in London. I was there for four months and when I came back to New York, I felt so discombobulated. I didn't recognize anything anymore! My whole world had been London, I never once thought about New York or going back. I almost felt like an immigrant!

The roundtable made me think of how I need to incorporate more how the landscape affects my characters in my new novel. Particularly since my heroine has never really been out of her city or state before. Not just the landscape but also the weather as well. I'm really good at dialogue and character description but not so good at the other stuff. I need to describe whether or not the walls are cracked in the hallways and other good things like that.

So yesterday, to help me work on pyschogeography, I made my way out to Brooklyn to the Botanical Gardens. June is Rose Month out there. I've been out to Brooklyn to go to the museum but never to the Botanical Gardens although they are right next door. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was out, the sky was blue and the roses were beautiful. I made time to stop and sniff, remember the fragrance in my nostrils. I've never seen so many different kinds of roses in my life. There was one variety that was purple that didn't even look like what we would consider a rose. There were roses named after Princess Michael of Kent, Julie Andrews, Charles Aznavour, a McCartney rose (which was absolutely lovely, probably named for Linda), a Barbra Streisand rose that wasn't open yet so I couldn't see what the color would have been.

The trip reminded me of the rose bushes that my grandmother used to have in her backgarden in her house here in the city. They were beautiful bushes, and my mother used to clip them and take them home so that we had fresh roses, instead of the hot house ones that they sell at most florists. I think that's why I'm not that fond of receiving roses, because I've had the real thing. I was seriously tempted to snip one or two but I was sure that I was going to get caught. When I was little, I loved flowers, and I had no qualms about wandering off at the Hojos in Kingston and trying to pick the flowers until my mother grabbed me.

I wish I still had the picture of me at Kew Gardens in England, sitting in the middle of a bunch of rose bushes. I also had pictures of me hanging off of the Unicorn of Scotland as well.

So I guess the lesson I learned is that I need to remember that there is more than GIC, and dialogue to make a book work. All the senses need to be engaged. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.

Thanks for reading,


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