Monthly Archives: November 2011

Happy Birthday, Bay Bridge!

SF-Oakland Bay Bridge Opening Day posterOn November 12, 1936, the then longest bridge in the world opened, connecting San Francisco to Oakland by spanning the busy San Francisco Bay with a brief touchdown on Yerba Buena Island.

November 12, 1936.

Hailed as an engineering marvel (which it was), the Bay Bridge, like its younger, still-being-built counterpart, The Golden Gate Bridge, did something to link the imaginations and dreams of people to their sense of place and possibility.

SF Bay Bridge under construction.

On one side of the event there was a distinct celebration of technological prowess, a symbol of the ways a society could pull itself out from the catastrophe of an economic depression through modern science and the application of man-power to shape material reality.  Where some parts of the country were currently plunged into battle with the forces of nature revealed in dust storms and drought, here was evidence that thirty years after a destructive earthquake, people could survive and flourish and accomplish great things.

They have builded magnificent bridges where the nation’s highways go;
O’er perilous mountain ridges and where great rivers flow.
Wherever a link was needed between the new and the known
They have left their marks of Progress, in iron and steel and stone.
There was never a land too distant nor ever a way too wide,
But some man’s mind, insistent, reached out to the other side.
They cleared the way, these heroes, for the march of future years.
The march of Civilization-and they were its Pioneers.

Poem by Evelyn Simms, read at the opening

Opening Day

There were touches of the mythic in the perception of what it meant to modify land in such powerful ways, to connect that which nature hadn’t connected, in short, to bridge distances that had once been taken for granted as being unbridgeable.  These projects, undertaken for public welfare, inspired confidence in a time of uncertainty and gave rise to the celebratory in spite of the challenges faced by people in their daily lives.

That there was a nod to beauty, not just utility, was an important part of the construction process and the meaning made manifest by these bridges.

It’s this meaning and the ability people have to channel its energy into works of lasting importance, to be able to find forms that suit a place and a time but which have lasting relevance, that is of interest to me and is at the heart of the story I’m writing; not just as a theoretical exercise, but that my characters are coming to terms with this kind of meaning in their own lives, figuring out how they fit into the scheme of things and how their lives are being created out of forces invisible to the eye but archetypally present.  My challenge is to turn something “sensed” in what these bridge projects conveyed – both on the human scale and beyond, to what is greater than individuals, greater than the realm of a particular time and place – into a fictional representation.  Not exactly a counterpart, I wouldn’t go so far as the hubris that I’m writing the equivalent of the Bay or Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s a companion tribute and a creative endeavor with its own sense of “livingness.”

I’m trying to let the creative work develop its own fullness, let its light shine through. Ultimately, it’s not a novel about bridges or even bridge construction – but at heart it’s about the ways we build bridges to connect what has been kept distant and how the mythic and the creative intertwine.

**

SF Chronicle article on the SF Bay Bridge 75th anniversary.

Bay Bridge official site.

A new artistic vision for the Bay Bridge.

The Bay Lights from Words Pictures Ideas on Vimeo.

Sentence evolution

The Sentence is a tool to keep a writing project focused and I’ve worked over GOTS’ Sentence many times inthe past two years in an effort to refine that focus, or, in the case of last year’s massive setting shift to reflect the most important elements of the story.

It’s interesting to note how a story can change so much yet still remain the same project. To illustrate that, here are several incarnations of my summary.  The first is the actual first attempt to figure out what in the world I was working with.

  • A five year old passenger in a wreck that leaves her brother in a coma is sent to her grandparents’ while her mother gives all her attention to the injured boy. In a strange environment and with no friends, Kimmie discovers an unlikely and dangerous ally who sends her on a journey to restore her brother from unconsciousness.

Wordy, wordy, wordy, but I was merely working my way toward my point. Gradually I cleaned it up and had something I could work with for a while.

  • A dubious fairytale ally helps a little girl far from home discover the path to recovery from the trauma of a car wreck that left her brother in a coma.

I started working with that as my guiding principle – it gave the most important details of the story around which I could work new information and plot expansions.

Eventually, as detailed in The Convoluted History of GOTS, and What GOTS has Turned Into,  I realized I was on a tangent, a wrong track, for this story.  It has themes it wants to maintain and the decisions I was making for the story weren’t working for them.  Not that I have an ulterior motive in writing this, or that the entire point is the “message” but that this story has fundamental characteristics, or dare I say, needs, and that to deviate from them would be to undermine it.

I’m not going to out and out list those themes (sorry, no Cliffs Notes version of GOTS), because if I succeed in making the story I want, you’ll be able to find your own in it and I will have done my job well without hitting you over the head with blatant explanations.

Most recently, I started working again after a several month hiatus (encompassing an international move) and I started with the Sentence as written in the previous post. It’s obviously related to the last pre-setting-shift version, but with significant alterations.

  • A dubious fairytale ally gives a gifted student the means for her injured father’s recovery but immanent homelessness requires relinquishing her dreams to save her family during the Depression.

With the help of How to Think Sideways members to whom I offered a longer description of the story, I was able to work out a new and improved summary.  This is where I’m currently basing my story, what keeps me focused.

  • When a math-whiz risks her dreams to support her family during the Depression, a double-dealing frog promises the cure for her comatose father if she’ll sign her talents over to him.

Even rereading it now I find a few places where it isn’t perfectly consistent with the amorphous-but-still-fully-formed-in-my-unconscious story that wants to be written.  Every now and again I’ll revisit the Sentence and see if I can get it to reflect the project more succinctly and fully, but for now it works.