Sometimes plain is not vanilla, is not quite right.
I often think of the label signifying the taste vanilla – or probably more correctly, the artificial flavour, vanillin – as the basic ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ flavour of things like yoghurt, ice-cream, puddings and other sweets. In some cases one is granted the distinction between ‘plain’ and vanilla – the real difference being a vertiginous increase in sickly sweetness for the latter. Siplets from wee dark bottles of vanilla flavouring are spooned into plain scones and otherwise unadorned shortbread, so that one cannot easily separate or define what is plain and what vanilla flavoured. In chocolate and in wine there are even ‘notes’ of vanilla – a faint twang produced sui genesis in vineyard and in cocoa tree, one supposes. So our sweets are made complicated by language and by taste and tradition.
Why am I rambling about cookery though?
Well, I have just eaten a scone a little while ago. But also I have been reading Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson (http://www.amazon.com/Autobiography-Red-Anne-Carson/dp/037570129X ) which is (not in order) a novel in verse about the modern life of a red demon named Geryon, killed in myth by Herakles as one of his tasks – who is rendered by Carson as a thoughtful, also yearning, also stupid young man – combined with a discursive piece on the (apparently adjectival) Ancient Greek writer Stesichorus (who wrote a now-fragmented poem on Geryon) , a logic riddle/poem on Stesichorus’ affliction of blindness (possibly) by the defamed Helen of Troy, and several other bits I haven’t got to yet. Oof! I bought the book, inspired by World Book Day, and have not at all regretted the expensive price tag for the slender volume. I know it is poetry, as much as it tells a compelling story, as poetry always at a certain point makes me fling it down (regretfully, inspired, and happy all at once) to have a go at writing something myself. Very childish, probably. Like getting inspired watching a Blue Peter or Tony Hart craft segment then rushing off to glue bits of toilet roll and pipe cleaner together.
So I have put the novel aside a few times today amid a bit of personal chaos (not terribly important here, but involving our puppy dilemma, a tragedy at the building I am staying in, among other things) and started clattering away haphazardly with the novel.
You see, there has been something bothering me about the draft as it is now – known as Bee Pie, or the book of the alter, or something something honeycomb or light (sans ending still, but that’s okay). It is not overly interesting in a tactile, tasteable way. It has touches of interesting language — or at least I have tried to add little dark drops of concentrated oomph — but the whole lump was unleavened, and sort of clumpy. It is plain. I had set out to try a plain story but – as I mentioned earlier in this blog – abandoned the effort in favour of more dashing gratuities. And now I see that this was, in fact, more of the same, and probably would not add a great deal for the reader.
And so I have begun to twist into things a bit, adding poetry, fragments of memory, corrupted prayer and fear. The kinds of things I like to read. The kinds of things that make up the whole vivacious body of Autobiography of Red, but that in my book just alter it enough to make the plainness of the story shine in an honest, but more compelling way. At least I hope it will not seem too much fakery, even if the experiment fails.
“If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.”