Tuesday 16 – Wednesday 17 July 2013
*WARNING: This post contains language that may be offensive to some people.*
What the book says: The curtains were blue.
What your English teacher thinks the author meant: The curtains represent his immense depression and his lack of will to carry on. By using curtains, which cover windows, the author shows the desire of the protagonist to shut out the outside world.
What the author meant: The curtains were fucking blue.
I’d like to lay claim to the above text but they’re not my words. It’s one of those things that makes the rounds of Social Media platforms and gets shared from profile to profile, usually by writers, until you’ve seen it more times than you’d care to remember and it ceases to be entertaining or amusing. It’s not quite at that point for me. Not just yet, anyway . . .
However, the text does express a concept that I’ve often considered.
English teachers do like to delve into the meanings of texts. There are a number of reasons why I can write that with some level of authority, but they’re not important to the point of this post. Y’see, what I’m convinced of, what I’m sure of is that many books are written because the author really wants to . . . tell a story. That’s it. Nothing else. No ulterior motive. No overarching theme. No message. Nothing more. Just. A. Story. But some people have to attribute something more to texts. They need a meaning and so, after reading whatever they read into a text, there are some people who see things in books that might not have been there when the author churned out the work.
We’re told that Frankenstein’s monster was really a composite of how Mary Shelley viewed herself. The desolation of the moors and the English weather are reflections upon the character of Heathcliff. Name a book and theories abound as to what the author was alluding to when she or he wrote it. Let me give you an example. I’ll use a piece of my own work to illustrate the point.
Here on my lil blog, I posted a poem called ‘In A Dark, Dark Castle’ and in 2009 I entered it in a Western Australian poetry competition. There were certain requirements that poets were obliged to fill, for example, poems in the Open section had to have a minimum of thirty-two lines. Initially, my poem only had twenty-eight lines, and to be brutally honest, I only needed those twenty-eight in order to successfully conclude the work. So, in order to fulfil the requirements of the Open section, I really needed to add an extra verse. The trouble was the poem didn’t need an extra verse and I had no idea where I was going to jam one in and still have it make sense both narrative-wise and rhythmically. Eventually, I decided that the only place I could tack on an extra verse was to create a new first verse. This, in itself, was a challenge as the poem already started precisely where I had wanted it to begin. However, I managed to come up with a new first verse that I hoped would work. BAMMO, there’s the thirty-two lines for you.
As it turns out, the poem placed third in the competition and the judge wrote a lovely little analysis of my work. I’m choosing to paraphrase the judge, as I’ve not contacted him to ask if I could use his words, but it went a lil something like this: The poet (or narrator) distances herself from her gruesome tale by disclaiming responsibility for it. He later goes on to mention that had it not been so macabre, the poem could have been written for children.
Interesting . . . very interesting . . .
You see, with regards to his comment about the first verse, the new, slapped on because I needed an extra four lines to fulfil the requirements first verse, that’s not at all what I had intended. As the writer, the poem’s narrator wasn’t trying to distance him or herself at all; I simply needed four extra lines. Extrapolating from here, nowhere in the poem is the gender of the narrator mentioned, and I can only assume the judge has made an assumption upon learning the gender of the poet and come to the conclusion that the narrator, like the writer, is female. Not what I had intended.
I wrote that particular poem a long while prior to entering it into the competition; it was late at night, and I was sitting up in bed giggling to myself as I came up with each verse. In total, I guess it took me about twenty minutes to write and to be frank, I was simply arsing about with words. There’s no hidden meaning in the poem, there’s no moral or message that I wanted to get across to the reader. In fact, that particular piece, as with all of my writing at the time, stayed in a flip file and nobody except me ever actually read it. It was never intended for an audience. I was just having a bit of a laugh. But I can’t stress enough: there is no hidden meaning in this poem. It’s quite literal. It’s about a castle with a crypt, and in that crypt lives a ghoul who likes to eat kids, and if you ever dare to go to the castle, chances are you’ll probably get eaten. That’s it. And again, as for distancing the narrator from the gruesome tale . . . nuh, I just needed an extra four lines so I could enter the competition. And I only entered it as a laugh. Turns out, the joke was on me because I placed third in the state.
Yet, this established, an award-winning poet who judged the competition read into the thirty-two lines, something that I most certainly had not carefully considered weaving through the narrative. There was no poetic genius in it, no hidden meaning, nothing like that at all. And I should know, because I wrote the bloody poem! Still, someone saw something in that poem that the poet didn’t know was there. Why? Well, that’s a bloody good question.
The only way that I can think to answer that question is to say this: Human beings seem to me to have a need to find meaning in everything around them, even when no meaning is present. It’s how we make sense of the world. We find patterns in things where patterns aren’t present, attribute meaning to things that have none, complicate matters with things we believe simplify the situation in front of us because we need to make order out of chaos so that we can live contentedly. But, and as I always like to say, there’s always a ‘but’ . . . but sometimes the truth of the matter links back to where I started: sometimes the curtains are just fucking blue and that’s it. There isn’t any more.