Friday, April 16, 2010

Agatha Christie and other genius

Here she is at work:
Image result for agatha christie












According to this book about Agatha Christie's notebooks(via kottke.org), Christie's process was hardly very orderly, as her prose or the photo above might imply.

Here is an excerpt from a Slate article by Christine Kenneally about the book:
The contents of the notebooks are as multi-dimensional as their Escher-like structure. They include fully worked-out scenes, historical background, lists of character names, rough maps of imaginary places, stage settings, an idle rebus (the numeral three, a crossed-out eye, and a mouse), and plot ideas that will be recognizable to any Christie fan: "Poirot asks to go down to country-finds a house and various fantastic details," "Saves her life several times," "Inquire enquire-both in same letter." What's more, in between ominous scraps like "Stabbed through eye with hatpin" and "influenza depression virus-Stolen? Cabinet Minister?" are grocery lists: "Newspapers, toilet paper, salt, pepper ..." There was no clean line between Christie's work life and her family life. She created household ledgers, and scribbled notes to self. ("All away weekend-can we go Thursday Nan.") Even Christie's second husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, used her notebooks. He jotted down calculations. Christie's daughter Rosalind practiced penmanship, and the whole family kept track of their bridge scores alongside notes like, "Possibilities of poison ... cyanide in strawberry ... coniine-in capsule?"

According to the book Agatha's voice itself was painfully constructed. Taking time and many many notebooks. There is something so validating about knowing Agatha Christie drew maps, scribbled lists, let her husband join the fun. That no notebook was sacred. And no idea. Because I have always been worried that my ideas are too much like a mess of pick up sticks, the colors can be so pretty but they lie down there all over each other. I know I am no Agatha Christie, although the plot of my novel is turning out to be equally complicated (at least for me to figure out). But I had long thought that my disorganized mind, unable to form this single plot into any kind of cognizant shape was a problem.

Apparently Agatha had doubts and tried to get her notebooks under control. But Kenneally asks: Still, if Christie's natural method was to be disorganized, I wish I knew why it troubled her and why she ever thought it could have been different. Why was her prep work so profoundly nonlinear? She distributed thoughts literally all over the place. Is this what it looks like when you wrestle something down that is actually bigger than your own head?

And I'm inclined to agree with Kenneally, especially with the wonder so apparent in her questions. Why worry, if all those amazing mysteries and surprise is to be the result of it?

There is no proof of amazing results where my novel is concerned yet. But perhaps Agatha Christie's method is enough to validate my urges to draw the book, shape it from clay, find it's YouTube counterpart. If only to find my way through it. To discover some beauty in my apparent aimlessness, and trust that if there is no straight shot through this mess, so be it, I at least have joy and beauty, even if I lack the sense.

Apparently Mozart was the rare child prodigy that actually grew up to be successful as an adult. I recently heard David Shenk talk about it on NPR. Listen to it here. He describes deliberate practice, pushing ourselves to work on the things that we don't know how to do. That that is a process that teaches success. It doesn't come easy to anyone it seems. It takes work. And faith in something. Perhaps also faith in the work.


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