Monday, June 21, 2010

Setting

I got up this morning with my mind on writing a blog about settings for A Good Blog is Hard to Find. You should feel flattered; this is not a likely time or place for someone to focus on blog-writing. It’s is the longest day of the year, the first day of summer, and our garden is in its full glory. I spent the early part of the morning pulling weeds among the silver queen corn as my chicken scratched and pecked amid the tomatoes. (Her name is Sorche, but whe I let her out of her coop, I like to cry, “Release the Cluckin!”) The peppers are big and full and the tomatoes are sweet and red, and when I brush against them or tie them to their stakes, they release the wonderful smell of bruised tomato vines.  Then I refilled our hummingbird feeder, and as I write this, I’ve got half an eye on it, waiting to see if my hummingbird will return. I haven’t seen him yet, but the feeder was empty, so someone must’ve been drinking it.


The gardenias are faded and brown now, and their intoxicating fragrance is no longer in the air – intoxicating is not hyperbole; when they were in full bloom, the scent could almost make you dizzy – but the lantana is just coming into its own and some big purple flowers that I don’t know what they are, but they sure are pretty. And our hydrangeas are rowdy – magenta, purple, and blue.

But I wanted to tell you my views on setting, and differentiate it from a na├»ve misconception that setting functions just as backdrop. I had in mind to say that setting is a container and that in some metaphysical way, you can’t change the shape of the container without changing the contents, but it’s really more than that.

But back to setting. Someone, I forget who, but a heavyweight literary theorist theorized in his heavyweight literary way that the setting is also a character. At the time I read that, I thought that he had conflated the meanings of character as a person portrayed in fiction and character as the distinguishing qualities of a thing or place, such as “This wine has a lot of character.” Back then it seemed to me he had gone too far, but now I don’t know if he went far enough.

I got up and walked around the garden as I thought about this matter. Sorche is scratching and hunting under the Rose of Sharon, just now with purple and white trumpet-shaped flowers. Big yellow flowers and little yellow flowers adorn the cucumbers and the zuchinni. Yellow hairs as fine as – well – corn silk fall from ripening ears and radio-aerial-looking stalks drop pollen dust on the corn plants. Japanese eggplant grows like drooping purple teardrops.

But I sat back down to tell you about setting and why I think it’s important.

I’m thinking of a line from C S Lewis or somebody that a fish does not believe in water until it’s pulled out of it. Lewis meant to suggest by analogy the existence of God, but I wanted to apply it to the concept of setting, that setting is not only background, but foreground, above-ground, and underground. That it envelopes, surrounds, and infuses us. Setting is not the steam of the coffee at my wrist – it is coffee and coffee cup, too – the crumpled blue packs of Equal Sweetener – the beetle-black coffee beans from which the coffee was brewed – the coffee plants, and the mist-covered mountain coffee plants grow on – the nation of Columbia – South America, North America. I think about the address of an envelope in Our Town, the specifics of which I forget, but it telescopes outward from a street number, to a city, state, nation, the solar system, the universe, and ultimately the mind of God.

Setting has something to do with all of this, but I can’t think of that now.

I just looked up and saw the hummingbird has returned to its feeder.

Man Martin is the award-winning author of Days of the Endless Corvette.  His novella Scoring Bertram Wiggly is available exclusively on Kindle from Amazon.com.  His second novel, Paradise Dogs, is due out Spring of 2011 from Thomas Dunne Books.  His interviews with authors can be heard on Georgia Public Radio's Cover to Cover.  He lives in Atlanta with his wife Nancy, his dog Zoe, and chicken Sorche.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. What a great way to start my day with a piece of gorgeous writing.

Karin Gillespie said...

Wonderful, post. I loved that you wrote about setting and set the stage. "Rowdy" is such a great way to describe hydrangeas.

Peggy Webb said...

I agree with everything you said about setting and hydrangeas and humming birds and C S Lewis and God. And you said it so BEAUTIFULLY.

One of my greatest pleasures is finding a writer who mesmerizes me. You did. And writers are tough critics. Thank you for a lovely post.

Anonymous said...

Just loved your post! You're so lyrical.
Best,
Jackie Lee Miles

Anonymous said...

Loved your post. You're so lyrical.
Best,
Jackie Lee Miles

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Ad Hudler said...

Thanks for taking us outside, Man!

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