Thursday, April 12, 2012

Out of the Forest

In many early fables, the troubled or desperate youth wanders or flees into the forest. The forest is usually a dark place, mysterious, threatening -- often magical, or deemed magical for lack of understanding. The forest is haunted, not often by mindless specters, hellbent on giving one the willies, but usually by a primordial knowledge of the past, or the deeply frustrating notion that the youth is not living up to her potential. When she emerges from the forest, she is changed. Though she might look around at the world and see it differently, the real, knowable difference is her application of what she learned in the forest. She is now magic, because she now understands what was so recently beyond comprehension.

Our contemporary versions of those stories has a fella falling into a uranium pit. Or getting infected with gene-altering chemicals. And rising out of that experience with some new knowledge, be it wisdom or some sort of physical know-how.

At any rate, I guess I'm hoping that I arise at this moment as some sort of writing Spiderman . . .

But, first, let me tell you about my forest. I applied for this post-doctoral fellowship, which I currently inhabit, about a year ago with the promise to speculate about research-based creative writing. I'd been working on a novel about the early days of the oil industry for over a year -- I'd even had a short historical story about Ida Tarbell published in a literary magazine.

I was awarded the fellowship about a week after receiving news that my novel deal had fallen through, and, well, best-laid plans go to shit. Still, while it's taken some time to recover, I have had research on my mind, and I have had Petrolia on my mind. As a result, I spent two weeks in March back in Western Pennsylvania, wandering through the libraries in Oil City and Franklin, digging through old manuscripts, scrolling through reams of microfilm.

In the meantime, I have been still hung up on some of the ideas from my most recent post -- from holy moly over a month ago -- about landscape and fiction. I found the lesson in a book about oil, but went on to read Place and Space: The Perspective of Experience by Yi-Fu Tuan. What a book! It really got my literary spidey-senses tingling.

The rub: I have split my attention over the past month between a contemplation of landscape in fiction and the practice of research. Over the next couple of weeks, this blog is going to be a place where I can explore those ideas a bit, see if I've learned anything. In the meantime, I'll continue working daily on Pithole, which should inform both the narrative of landscape and of research, while informing both things.

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