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Rescuing the Phantom

 

One of my favourite novels of rescue is Phantom of the Opera.I read Gaston Leroux’s novel long before I saw the wonderful musical. I found all the old movies based loosely, very loosely, on the book missed the point entirely. While Phantom of the Opera weaves together our worst nightmares so tightly with our deepest hopes and wildest dreams that it’s impossible to pick the threads apart, ultimately, it is the story of rescue and redemption.

 

I think stories in mythology about seduction of mortal women by the gods are really stories of inspiration. What better description of inspiration than divine seduction. But sometimes, occasionally, they are twisted and turned in such a way that the heroine is more than just a victim of a horny god. The story of Psyche and Eros is an example. Ultimately Psyche is brave enough to rescue herself, with a little help from the gods. That doesn’t happen very often.

 

Leroux’s Phantom of the Operatwists that plot even further. There is no help from the gods, and the hero is not the dashing young viscount from Christine’s past. The god in the story is not irresistibly beautiful, but horribly disfigured. He knows the soul of an artist, and he knows the real seduction is in offering a deeper understanding, a deeper mastery of her gift, and the lovely Christine is willingly to accept what her Angel of Music offers. The Phantom’s darkness is the balance to Christine’s light, and his music of the night allows her true gift to shine. Through it all, Raul, the viscount, is clueless, convinced that he can keep Christine safe. But Christine knows the darkness now. She’s seen it, embraced it, and a part of her loves it, longs for it. Her seduction by the music of the night has a chilling price that the whole story revolves around. In the end there is no sword battle, no cunning tricks, no magic wand. In the end there is simply a kiss, far more devastating than the sharpest blade. Compassion and acceptance does what muscle and gunpowder cannot.

 

I still get shivers when I read the descriptions of the Phantom’s lair and the dark lake under the opera house, when I revisit the terrifying scene in the graveyard. Yet throughout the whole of the book I felt an ache for the Phantom that was much more about seduction than pity. Phantom of the Operais a compelling, beautifully woven mix of fear and awe and raw desire for a man who is so much more than human. But though his actions tell us he is a monster, he compels the reader to desire him, and we long for him and Christine to be together, for all wounds to be healed. We long for the happy ever after.

 

 

But there can be none. Instead, the happy-ever-after is gifted to Raul. He is to claim what the Phantom has nurtured and longed for but can never have. It is Christine, however, who earns that gift for Raul by being willing to pay the price for his life. There is no doubt she is the hero of this story. She is the goddess hidden, then revealed only at the end when a choice must be made between the death of Raul and Christine’s submitting willingly to life with the Phantom. She not only chooses, but she chooses unconditionally, unreservedly to love the Phantom, to understand him, in as much as it’s possible to understand such tortured genius. She is the true giver of the gift in this story. She restores the balance. Just as the Phantom’s darkness has infused her gift with the music of the night, her light heals him, enabling him to let go of that which he knows does not now, nor has it ever belonged to him, the gift and the possessor of that gift.

 

And what does that have to do with inspiration? In the Greek stories and myths, it takes time for the magical child to be born and trained up to fulfil the task for which he was conceived, and it is usually a he. In Leroux’s story, we aren’t told how long Christine has been studying with her ‘Angel of Music,’ but it is clearly enough to make her singing enthralling to anyone who listens.

 

I think Phantom of the Opera is a story of the compelling seduction of the creative force. It is inspiration and hard work moving through the fear to restore balance, and coming out on the other side to places we never could have imagined. Then it’s repeating the whole process over and over again. Inspiration is rescuing the phantom in each of us, redeeming the darkness and overcoming the fear.

 

Is this what Leroux wanted his story to convey? I don’t know, but I do know that the sensuality, the deep driving hunger coupled with the fear of moving past the point of no return is something every writer encounters. Our story, my story is about overcoming our fears and rescuing our phantoms. That’s not just the hero’s journey or the writer’s journey, that’s the journey of every person.

 

What we create, what we bring forth is the result of passion leading us down into the depths of ourselves, the results of seducing ourselves in ways that terrify us as much as they attract us. We are changed by that passion, by that deep connection with what inspires us. Innocence is lost and something totally new is created out of our fears, and we are inspired to move forward and to face unconditionally what comes next.

 

 

Being Stuck is the Beginning

Like most writers, my first thought of being stuck is always in relation to my work, though this past year is one of the first times’s I’ve ever had writers’ block, because it’s basically been a very tough year emotionally, so I am learning to think of being stuck differently. Like writers, I have a lot of unfinished stories, most have been tucked away because I had other more pressing projects, or the energy just wasn’t there for them at the time. Some get finished, some don’t. Others have evolved into something else entirely or have been cannibalized by still other stories. Even if I am stuck in some part of a story with a plot logjam, almost always a good long walk will help me figure out what to do to move forward.

 

There are a thousand other ways to be stuck that don’t involve writing, and hat got me thinking about the anatomy of stuck. Just exactly what does it mean to be stuck? Stuck is the starting place for a lot of great novels. When I got to thinking about it, it seems to me that stuck is the starting place for most archetypal stories. It certainly is the starting place of the hero’s journey, which is the ultimate story plot, because stuck is quite possibly the scariest place of all — standing on a cliff with toes curled over the edge oblivious to the peril.

 

Stuck often takes the form of the perfect life, the ideal happy-ever-after being lived out day to day. While in the real world, that may be what we dream of and hope for, in fiction, there’s the reason why the happy ending is, in fact, the end of the story. What comes after the happy ending, from a reader’s perspective, is boring.

 

The subtext of happy ever after beginnings is “hold on to your hats, shit’s about to get real.” Our hero or heroine is stuck, and they are about to get unstuck in a really brutal, horrible way. In happy at the beginning stories, spouses die, are murdered, run off with someone else, kids are kidnapped or killed, great wealth is suddenly lost, in fact everything that matters is lost. That shattering point of becoming unstuck is where the story really begins. It is the being kicked out of Eden that we readers have been waiting for. Living the good life does not make for interesting reading unless maybe in a how-to book.

 

The second kind of stuck in story happens when the main character is truly stuck in a rut, same old same old, bored now, want out. This kind of stuck involves the hero or heroine of the story wishing something would change, wishing they were anywhere or anyone else. They are waiting, desperately waiting, for their life to begin. The story starts when they get their wish, and it turns out to be way more of a challenge than they bargained for. They are well on the path to discovery and adventure that will change them forever, if it doesn’t kill them first. It’s only at that point we readers have a story worth reading. And that’s the point at which we writers strive to make readers willing and happy to take that leap with our characters.

 

Whether the character is happy with his life and then loses everything or is bored with his life and then has change thrust upon him, the story can now begin. Enter chaos!

 

While stuck is the jumping-off place from which the real story begins, once that happens, it’s chaos that rules the day. Nothing is easy, nothing is orderly, nothing is safe. The driving force of the story is the mess that keeps getting messier and messier until the hero or heroine muddles their way through and out on the other side to their happy ever after, or at least their happy for now. At that point, there are two choices for the writer. Either consider the tale finished and write THE END, or make a sequel that tears away the stuckness of a happy ever after and cast the poor hapless character back into chaos for round two.

 

I wonder sometimes if, for the “bored now” characters, stuck is hard to endure because stuck isn’t the natural state of things.  For those characters basking in their happy lives, there’s always a neurotic dose of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Either way, stuck doesn’t last because life is in flux, and everything about it is in
motion. Nothing stands still for very long. The journey is cyclical, not static, and moving from stillness into chaos and back again is as much the shape of our natural journey as it is the shape of an interesting story. That being the case, it’s not surprising that readers love to live that journey vicariously, magnified, larger than life. And we writers love to write it for the very same reason. We see ourselves in that cycle, and on some level, even from the safe distance of story, we feel right at home.

 

Taking a Pole

Most of you know by now that I’m having a masochistic love affair with a sadistic metal pole. This has been going on for two and a half years now, and my husband is okay with it, in fact, he rather likes it. It’s been a long, hard, and bruising journey to get where I am now, and while I know I’ve come a long way in an sport/art not usually frequented by women of a certain age, I have a long way to go and every bit of it a challenge. You can see the beginnings of my pole journey here.

This summer I took part in a photo shoot and just recently got my photos back. I’m very pleased with the end results, so I thought I’d share them with you today. I’m also including a few photos from the early days for comparison.

 

 

I feel like I’ve come a good ways since those first classes.

 

 

It’s been a bruising and sometimes difficult journey, but always exciting.

 

 

 

And nasty bruises still happen, though not as bad. Oh, this one was from my first class ever.

 

 

It’s good to look back and see results from all of the hard work.

 

 

From this ….

 

 

To this. While I’m pleased with the results, two and a half years is just long enough to give me a good taste of just how far I still have to go. Truly, the journey is only beginning.

One of these days I might get brave enough to post a video.

 

Making the Word Flesh

‘The word became flesh and dwelt among us.’

 

No, I’m not waxing Biblical on you this lovely spring day. It’s just that I’ve been thinking about the power of the word. Duh! Writer here. When am I not thinking about the power of the written word?

 

At the moment, I’m still struggling with A Demon’s Tale, the fourth novel in the Medusa Consortium series. Like all the Medusa tales, it’s a big book. In fact what is taking me so long is that almost three quarters of the way through a novel that still needed LOTS more space, I realised that I was trying to write three novels into one. SOOO, I’m now unraveling the three so that A Demon’s Tale will truly be the Guardian’s story. The other two stories are for another time. As I work through this unraveling, occasionally I find myself wondering how we writers can create something out of nothing, from the tiniest seed of an idea. As much as I love a good TV binge, there’s nothing like a good novel – whether you’re reading it or whether you’re writing it. Few things engage the creative process quite like a novel does. In the mind of both the reader and the writer, the word becomes flesh and the world of the story becomes as real as the world we live in … at least if the author has done her job.

 

The very best novels are the ones that pull us in to the point where the writer’s world seems more real to us than our own, to the point that we physically feel the story, not simply take it into our mind. That’s also true for the writing of a tale. Some days the Guardian’s world seems more real to me than my own, and honestly, if I’m not pulled into the story physically, if I don’t feel it in my gut and below, then I can hardly expect my readers to, can I?

 

You see, the thing about being a writer is that we’re entirely self-entertaining. The stories seemingly come out of nowhere, and expand to fill our days, and often our nights and any moment we can spare in our efforts to get them down, in our efforts to create something real. Even when I’m not plopped in front of the computer writing, the story, the characters, the next scene – they’re all going through my head. Some of the best, most creative writing happens when I’m not physically writing at all.

 

If you’ve read the Judeo/Christian creation myth in Genesis, then you know that God simply speaks the world into existence without any seeming order of plan. That’s writing in a nutshell. I have an idea. I shape it enough to anticipate what the ending might be … might be, and then I write and let the story unfold and surprise me.

 

Eeep! I guess I am waxing a bit Biblical, but you have to understand, there’s a whole lot of mythology going on in the Medusa books, and as a lover of myth, how can I not get pulled in and end up contemplating the connections and meanings?

 

While a writer brings her world into existence using nothing but words, she has to do a little more than that with the characters. They can be created with words, but they need life breathed into them, they need chemistry, connection, personality, pasts, flaws, feelings, neuroses and a driving force that’s greater than themselves. The world unpopulated is a lonely and boring place. Let’s just say Magda Gardener’s world is anything but. And there comes a point when I’m not entirely sure if I’m breathing life into my characters of if they’re breathing life into me. And like Adam and Eve, my characters, at some point, become autonomous and don’t always do what I want them to do, what I command them to do. What I discovered early on is that the story only truly takes flight and evolves into something alive and powerful and real when my characters leave the Eden I’ve created for them and step out into the wilderness of flawed humanity. What I am certain of is that my world is brighter, more textured, more three-dimensional because of the characters I’ve created to populate the worlds I’ve written, and especially because they choose free will over my commands. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, since the stories we writers create are a part of ourselves yet to be discovered and the discovery is absolutely an adventure in creation.

 

When the Parts are Greater than the Whole

 

 

That the parts of a piece of music, a work of art, a novel or poem can inspire more than the whole won’t likely come as a surprise for those of us who see a story in everything. I was lucky enough to catch two exhibitions in London recently. While they were completely different in nature, what they had in common was that they were prime examples of the parts being greater than the whole.

 

The first exhibition was Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greeceat the British Museum. Presently some of Rodin’s most famous works are being exhibited side-by-side with a selection of the Elgin Marbles. Though Rodin never made it to Athens, his work was profoundly inspired by the art from the pediments that had once adorned the Parthenon.

 

“No artist will ever surpass Pheidias … The greatest of sculptors, who appeared at the time when the entire human dream could be contained in the pediment of a temple, will never be equalled.” Auguste Rodin

 

“The entire human dream … contained in the pediment of a temple.” Has there ever been a better description of what we as writers, as storytellers try to do in the pages of our work? And after seeing a photography exhibition at the Museum of Londoncalled London Nights, I couldn’t keep from noticing that theme played out over and over again.

 

Rodin’s temple with its pediment of the human dream is his Gates of Hell, a work I knew nothing about before the exhibition. The Gates of Hell, was to be a representation of Dante’s Inferno. Sadly only a small clay replica of that masterpiece was on display. For a better view and more details about Rodin’s Gates of Hell check out the YouTube link.

 

The sculpture was commissioned in 1880 for a museum that was never built. But Rodin was so pulled into the effort, so inspired by it, that he continue to work on it on and off until his death in 1917. Many of his most famous sculptures, including The Kiss and The Thinker (who originally represented Dante sitting in the tympanum of the sculpture) were inspired by and taken from his original work.

 

“None of the drama of Life remained unexplored by this earnest, concentrated worker … Here (in The Gates of Hell) was life, a thousand-fold in every moment, in longing and sorrow, in madness and fear, in loss and gain. Here was desire immeasurable, thirst so great that all the water of the world dried up in it like a single drop.”

Rainer Maria Rilke (Briefly Rodin’s secretary)

 

The following weekend I found myself at the Museum of London standing before two images that, like Rodin’s Gates of Hell, invited me to dwell on the intriguing details and secrets of the parts, rather than the whole. Since there was no photography allowed, I ended up frantically taking notes on my phone. The images were both temples, of a sort, both attempting to contain the human dream in their “pediments.” One was a photograph from Rut Blees Luxemburg’sLondon: A Modern Project. The image, taken in 1999, is of a London high-rise apartment building in what looks to be a lower middle class neighbourhood. I was pulled in because I could see into people’s windows, into their lives. I wondered about their stories; the bicycle sitting on the balcony of the top floor, the Christmas lights visible in several windows, the dark flat with “shadow monsters” from childhood dreams pressing to the balcony windows seeking entrance. At the center of the photo is a stairwell illuminated in garish florescence, bisecting the building from top to bottom. It’s the only apparent connection to the stories in the apartment framework. This building is a container for the human dream played out in a thousand different ways with a thousand different outcomes.

 

The counter to Blees Luxemburg’s high-rise of flats is Lewis Bush’s high-rise office building. The particular photo that drew me was taken at night when the offices should have been deserted. The image itself is slightly distorted in perspective, a view from below, but not from the ground. The glare of light reflected at certain angles obscures the view in some of the floor to ceiling windows. When I looked closer, I realized there were a few people still inside. And none of them looked particularly happy – though that could have been my imagination, because to me, this was a story waiting to be told. This “pediment” was a perversion of the human dream. There was nothing personal about it and very little human. Perhaps that’s why I was so drawn to the few people who were there. What was written on every face, at least to my observation, was the terrible cost of living that dream. Here are a few of my frenetic notes.

 

Soul captured in a photo. People still in the high-rise office at night? Why? What are their stories? What’s the guy at the bottom looking at? The one looking out the window, does he see the photographer? Would anyone stuck in the building believe him if he told them?

 

The one with hair hanging in his face — what’s he looking at on his screen? He looks frazzled. Woman with head down on desk? Why? And is there a man sitting in the reception area? Why’s he there? What’s he waiting for? 

 

Is there a guy in a priest collar???

 

Is that a gym?

 

Reflecting on the two photographs now, it seems interesting to me that there were no people visible in any of the windows of the flats, as though they might be able to hide in their private world. But there is nothing private about the office high-rise. The photo seems all about being exposed in the darkness.

 

The enclosures, the containers that hold the stories we long to tell, are high rises, homes, tunnels and caves underground, spaceships, battles being fought, beds being fucked in, and long roads travelled. We write them voyeuristically, as we look into the windows of our experiences and beyond. The stories we pen are the pediments for human dreams. They contain our Gates of Hell, our gods and goddesses and their epic toying with humanity. They contain our monsters in the dark and our unexplored lives. They will remain always only in the pediments where we can see them, and take them out, and explore them, and be uncomfortable with them, or aroused by them, or frightened by them, or totally pulled in to their tale. Their tale is always our own retold, and yet never quite like we’d planned it, certainly not the way we lived it out. What holds us within the framework are the once upon a times and the happily ever afters, the what ifs and the whys. What keeps us coming back for yet another look is the hope inspired by a dream kept alive when death looms ever larger.

 

 

It’s an overwhelming task we take on as writers, as artists. How could we endure it or
explore it if all we ever saw was the high-rise or the temple? It’s too much to take in.
It’s the secrets in the pediments, in the office at night, in the curtains not quite completely drawn that keep us telling our stories. In our imagination, in our urge to create, we’re drawn to the pediments for the dreams, the vignettes. We’re pulled in
by the questions that reveal themselves and startle us into realizing what they might mean. But we linger there because of how they surprise us when they’re suddenly the center of our focus — those things we didn’t notice before.

 

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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