Blair writes: “To understand Cornell’s aims and working method we must examine two essential stages in his artistic process: the ‘voyaging’ stage – his search for materials as recorded in the diaries, correspondence and dossiers – and the business of ordering, classifying and constructing the fruits of these voyages” (23-24). I decided to try this as well. There I was, sitting on the couch, writing down my thoughts and ideas on a scrap of paper that looked weathered and old and ready to fall apart at any moment. I thought about the irony of such a paper and how reflective it is of the storyline and mood of this book. Here, though, is what I wrote:
I love and hate Jodi Picoult for how much she forces me to question myself and my own life. She makes me think. And sometimes, I’ll admit it, I don’t like what I think about or what I see. She knows precisely how to push my buttons. However, it isn’t about control or manipulation for her. It is just about making people think. I can’t blame her.
She asks too many questions in this book. And how am I to answer them?! It is hard to put myself in that gray world, knowing that by doing so, I’m weakening my own security. By asking myself these questions, I am, inevitably, firing bullets at myself. Yes, I know Jodi Picoult is only doing this to make me come out stronger. Still, though, I sit here and think about how much easier it is so convince myself that my world is stable and full, and all I want to do is stay in this illusion of security. Even if it is only an illusion, there is comfort in a dream.
What are the exact things, though, that bother me so much about what Jodi Picoult is asking? Is it that it makes me feel guilty for feeling like my life sometimes sucks, when, really, compared to these characters, I have nothing to complain about? Does it make me feel immature and unworthy of attention, because, really, I am okay, and don’t need people to focus their efforts on me. Or is it that, even though my life is so significantly different from these characters, I have felt how they feel at one point in my life. Maybe, I am not all that different. And, maybe, that is really what scares me.
Sometimes I have this dream where I am running, just running. And this is ironic, because I never run in real life. I have flat feet. I guess I write that like it is supposed to explain something, when, really it only means that medically and physically it is harder for me to run – not impossible, just more difficult. However, when I am running in this dream, I never know what I am running from. I am just running, running, not grounded, moving chaotically. I wake up in a sweat, as if I have actually been running. My sheets are all rumpled and are usually in a messy pile on the floor. Nothing is intact.
This is very much how I feel when reading this book. I am running with the characters, gasping for breath, confused, living in a world that has been turned upside down and is all over the place. And I don’t like being there. However, Jodi Picoult makes me go there. She creates this exact world and challenges readers to feel it, taste it, smell it, engage with it, question it. She forces us to do what we might not do on our own.
Blair writes: “The search for the self required more…Cornell needed the reflection of others in order to more fully realize his own image” (20-21). When I read this section, I was completely struck. This is exactly how I felt when reading My Sister’s Keeper. I needed to see these exact characters, experience this exact world created by Picoult, to realize where I stood on the issue, to help create and understand my own image. And I wanted to create this sensation in my blox. I wanted viewers to experience these questions and ask themselves where they stand. My main goal was to create an exact image of this gray world, and to challenge viewers to engage with it.
Cornell was highly concerned with classification. The idea of classification implies a sort of exactness – of being able to label or define something into a category. Classification has to do with being able to pinpoint a mood, or theme, or idea. This is what I had to do – I had to classify exactly what I wanted to put into my blox, and how, exactly, each of these images would fit together. How, exactly, would I justify this classifcation?
Well, to start off with, I have the image of the hands holding the box of images. Here is the notion of trying to contain a precise image, of literally trying to classify it and hold it within your hands. Even if this image implies a sort of entropy, it is still a tangible image in the sense that this entropy is an exact mood. However, I purposely made the edges of the box undefined – jagged and faded – to illustrate that the grasp on this box, though contained for the moment, is one that is difficult to hold for a long time. To put oneself in this gray world, and embrace it, is no easy feat.
Within the box itself, I purposely made most of the images gray and faded to illustrate the confusion and difficulty characters experience when it comes to classifying their mood and purpose and ideas. I also did this to make it difficult for the viewer to make sense of the world. This is how I felt when reading the book, and I wanted to convey this sense of confusion – this notion that to really form a viewpoint, one must immerse oneself in this world. In order to really make sense of the images in the blox, viewer really has to delve in and look closely.
I included the collapsing home in the left corner to illustrate how broken the family feels. There are images of cracked windows and glass throughout the blox to illustrate how unstable and shattered this world is. On the left side of the blox is a cracked lens. Here is the idea that the characters have trouble seeing straight. I tried to capture this in the blox, as a whole, by making the image a bit disorienting and cracked.
In the bottom left corner is a symbol for the scale of justice. This image is particularly faded, and the scale is off balance. Since the legal battle for medical emancipation is such an exact storyline in this novel, I thought it fitting to include this image in the muddied mess of images in my blog. I also thought it indicated the sense that morality – what is right and what is wrong – is not always clear cut. It cannot always be so easily classified and defined by law.
I have images of flames engulfing the background, as well as rope that is being ripped, with only a single thread holding the two pieces together. I was really trying to convey this sense that the balance is off – that stable ground is no longer there. That is why I have the image of the person holding onto the rope and about to tight walk across it. This is what I think about when I imagine the characters in this novel – I see characters walking across a thin rope, about to fall at any moment. This is how I feel when reading the book, as well – that I, too, might get sucked into this confusing world at any moment. My safety is at stake, as well.
And, finally, I have the broken heart in the bottom right corner. The shattered heart is indicative of the broken relationships in the novel. However, this heart is a locket, which holds particular importance to Anna, who sells her priceless locket in order to get money to pay the lawyer. Giving up this locket is a huge sacrifice for Anna. I colored the heart in red, to stick out against the gray background. I wanted the eye to focus on the heart – because at its core, this book is about following one’s heart. Morality is not something that is black and white and can be decided easily. In the end, one has to listen to one’s own thoughts and desires and be true to oneself.
As humans, we like when our worlds fit into neat little boxes. We like being able to tie our shoes in perfect knots. We like crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s and lining books up on a shelf in a straight row. It is comforting when we can identify something, someone, ourselves. We like to know precisely who we are, where we are going. Being able to label things precisely, gives us something stable to hold onto in a world that is often hard to hold onto.
To create an exact image, or idea, or mood, is a tremendous feat. The world tends to favor entropy, to head in that direction. Science says that entropy is inevitable, and yet the very idea of exactitude proposed by Calvino, is trying to take away some of this entropy. Calvino discusses that exactitude is a clear and thought out plan, precise imagery and ideas and diction. However, this is not to say it is the opposite of entropy. Instead, exactitude tries to contain a precise image, whereas entropy says that this is inevitably impossible. This being said, the exact image one is trying to capture, might be one of entropy, ironically. This precise image or mood might be one that is gray and hard to contain, and is confusing and broken and all over the place. However, an exact idea of this can be captured, even if the content material seems inherently uncontrollable.
In My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult works very hard to create an exact “what if” question. She is creating a controversial, hypothetical world, and asking readers: “what if this happened to you? how would you deal with it? what would you do? how do you ethically view this situation? is there a right or wrong answer?” By doing so, Jodi Picoult is forcing readers into an exact mindset – one that provokes questioning. She is creating a world that doesn’t make sense, that is hard to map out, and she is challenging readers to engage in this world.
When asked in interviews, Jodi Picoult mentions that all her books start off with a “what if” question. If the question is still in her mind after a couple weeks, then she knows the topic is a salient one, and worthy of writing. Picoult’s method towards storytelling is an exact one. She has a precise goal in mind, and wants to impact her readership in an exact way.
However, the best way in which Jodi Picoult exemplifies exactitude in her writing, is with regards to the mood she creates. She has the ability to sculpt a world that feels so real, a mood that highlights the core of the story. In My Sister’s Keeper, this mood has to do with confusion, cracks, rips, tears. It has to do with a world that is collapsing and scary and hard to define. Through her world choice, pacing, and use of multiple perspectives, Picoult effectively creates such a world for readers. And by doing so, she can convey a precise image, or message, to her readers.
I wrote this recently on my other blog: I think the key to words and the formation of them – the stringing together of letters and words to form thoughts and sentences – is awareness. It is about awareness of what it means to speaker and what it might mean to audience. It is awareness of multiple meanings and implied meaning and intended meaning. Words are gray. They are foggy and sometimes you have to blink a couple times to even maybe catch a glimpse of meaning. Words don’t always make sense. And that is kind of the beauty of words. It is also the frustration. Sometimes I just want to throw books against walls and listen to the sounds they make as they fall to the ground, as gravity takes control of them. I want, for a moment, to take away the heaviness of the words – for one second to make them light. But nothing lasts – and so the words must fall and collapse and become as confusing as ever. And I just have to smile.
Calvino describes lightness in a couple different ways. He mentions a lightness of language. In this case, the words themselves are light in meaning, texture, in the context they are used. Therefore, a lightness of language implies a sort of lightness of thought. The words you use don’t hold much weight, they are subject to change, they do not last long enough to have much impact. The second idea of lightness has to do with the idea that a train of thought might be heavy, but the parts of it – the smaller ideas or words that make it up, are lighter. Letters, themselves, are light, but you can string them together in a way to create weight. Words and sentences can create tangible thoughts. A train of thought is comprised of subtle elements at work, light elements – and it is only through the process of tying these elements together, that a sort of weight is formed. Calvino reflects upon a third aspect: a visual image that acquires emblematic value. This image epitomizes the idea of lightness, or in other words, the absence of weight. There is this idea that we feel the absence or presence of lightness based off of the absence or presence of weight. We can only really experience lightness when we have disregarded the heaviness. If we can dissect the weight long enough, then maybe we can shed some “light” on a subject.
Looking back at some books I have read, I have definitely noticed the idea of lightness present in them. It is so interesting now to see how many of my favorite books illustrate this idea. Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite writers, so I will probably mention her a couple times in this blog. Right now I am thinking about one of her newer books entitled Handle with Care. The first chapter opens with the following:
Things break all the time. Glass, dishes, and fingernails. Cars and contracts and potato chips. You can break a record, a horse, a dollar. You can break the ice. There are coffee breaks and lunch breaks and prison breaks. Day breaks, waves break, voices break. Chains can be broken. So can silence, and fever.
For the last two months of my pregnancy, I made lists of these things, in the hopes that it would make your birth easier.
On the night before you were born, I sat up in bed with something to add to my list. I rummaged in my nightstand for a pencil and paper, but Sean put his warm hand on my leg. Charlette? he asked. Is everything okay?
Before I could answer, he pulled me into his arms, flush against him, and I fell asleep feeling safe, forgetting to write down what I had dreamed.
It wasn’t until weeks later, when you were here, that I remembered what had awakened me that night: fault lines. These are the places where the earth breaks apart. These are the spots where earthquakes originate, where volcanoes are born. Or in other words: the world is crumbling under us; it’s the solid ground beneath our feet that’s an illusion.
From this opener, we already get this sense that things are fallible; they are not always as strong or heavy as we think they are. They hold weight, yes, but this weight can break.Often times, there is only this illusion that our weight can be upheld. There is a lightness at heart in knowing we are safe, or at least thinking we are. However, there is also this idea that things are destined to break overtime, that the weight of the world will get to them.
The main storyline in this novel has to do with a young girl who is born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that makes her bones brittle and very easy to break. She is subjected to suffering hundreds of broken bones and a lifetime of pain. She is so light, so fragile – it is hard for her not to get hurt. Often times she is in a a wheelchair, because she is too light to even support her own weight. However, she has this lightness of mind, this optimism of spirit. She is light at heart, despite the heaviness and severity of her condition.
On my other blog, I have a page where I analyze a picture in terms of its “lightness.” However, an interesting twist is that the photo has only achieved lightness because it has been manipulated. This idea of manipulation, in a way, can take away from the lightness. But try not to think about that. Instead, focus on the ways in which the manipulation gives life to the photo. Young at Heart.