I think we all acquire a style, in how we talk, write letters, draw, or make friends, by around age 30, and the style is hard to lose. 


See Picasso vs. Warhol.




It’s clear who’s who.  If I mentioned the one of them who “gravitates to explicit pain and sex, and to his own abstractions,” and you knew how these guys expressed themselves in art, you’d get which I meant.


I’ve been thinking of the fixed aspects of expression in light of the recent New York Times review of Annie Proulx’s new book, Bird Cloud, in which the reviewer dares to typify or characterize the one way in which Proulx writes. 


Proulx is a writer who tends to create her novels (this time: a memoir) specifically by focusing on details from the physical world.  That’s where her eye shoots; it’s her personality or style in the world.  She relies on technical names, for things like flowers, foods, and towns, to give texture to ideas or invite people in.  Her details jolt you, says Dwight Garner of The New York Times:


“What is that signature style?” he writes. “Reading Ms. Proulx’s prose is like bouncing along rutted country roads in a pickup truck with no shock absorbers. Her books are packed with arcane flora and fauna and eccentrically named towns and characters. Many writers employ unusual verbs and adjectives; Ms. Proulx likes weird nouns. Her cluttered style is, in a kind of reverse way, as jewel-encrusted as Gustav Klimt’s.”


Garner’s review presents at least one interesting task: Can you describe your own voice—your way of organizing the world—so specifically?  In this sense, being a literary critic is a bit like being a psychologist who names the typical choices a patient makes.  I would say the following of me and my writing style: I tend toward the confessional.  I use short sentences that want to be philosophical but try to bend back to the practical.  I jolt a bit, using verbs that look like nouns.


As with psychological truths too, there are reasons why we grow into our particular styles.

Biology’s big.  Some people are born with an aptitude for detail; some are born attracted to a bigger picture.  I tend toward the abstract, and am not great with detail.  This is true through and through for me.  I can’t fold things neatly; I’m a bad baker but a better cook; details bore me and stuff-ness of large-swabbed expression thrills me.  This is all party inborn: Think of Darwin being born versus Jackson Pollock being born.  They could never have been each other, and that’s the difference biology brings.


Childhood shapes the thumbprint.  Even though I am excited by huge abstractions and philosophy, I tend to use simple sentences because I grew up through a series of teachers who told me to scale back, to get practical, to use active tense and avoid longer words.  “Be practical, not in the clouds.”  Because I took that molding process seriously, it became my gait.  Changing the gait—the very way you walk—late in life is hard.


The bigger culture shapes a thumbprint just as much.  Proulx’s work comes from a woman who’s close to the outdoors and rural life.  Those are her tools, her details.  In this sense, there are books that are written by people from the South, books written from German minds, books from Victorian minds, and books from Italian Renaissance minds.  I tend to write with the details, images, values, and ideas particularly accessible to a woman in New York City in 2011.  See my references and politics.  They shape what I say.


Can you be your own critic, and describe your style?  How’d you come to that style?  Have you read, and do you like, Annie Proulx?


Ilana Simons is a therapist, literature professor, and author of A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. Visit her website here.

0 Kudos
by on ‎01-09-2011 12:26 PM

Sitting here, this morning.  One sock on, and one sock off.  I can't find the other sock.  I know I had both on my feet, last night.  I've eaten some toast, drunk some coffee, and now I'm looking down at my sweat shirt, picking  off the crumbs, and looking at that one foot with the painted toe nails, wondering where that other sock went.


That's who I am, this morning.  That's my style, this morning.  I'm distracted, my wrist is hurting.  I need to wrap it, so I can type. 


We are shaped, but I don't think it stops at 30.  What about the other 30 years I have on you?  Try tacking that onto that thumb print, and see what it feels like!


I like detail, I'm not that interested in abstract, even though I find it to be fascinating, it's difficult for me to identify with.  But I have always been interested in impressions, and impressionistic art.  I like expressionistic art.  I eat up artists like Andrew Wyeth, http://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images?_adv_prop=image&fr=yhs-avg&va=andrew+wyeth


I was never taught to write, in the world of schooling.  I was taught visual art.


I've never thought a lot about my style, to be honest. When I was in my forties. I was asked, only once, by my art teacher:  "What do you want to be?"  I said I wanted to be a fine artist.  She nodded her head in agreement.   I'm still not sure if I fully understand it.  I'm still not sure if I understand myself, fully.


A few weeks ago, while at my writers group meeting, I finished reading something I'd written.  There was a disagreement, as to how this piece was constructed, how it was written.  It started out as prose, and ended up as poetry.  I said, that's just how I write.  That's just how my brain processes.    It's not that they didn't like what I'd written, they just didn't fully understand it, that is, until we talked more about it.


I've spent my life trying to be understood.  I've taken myself apart, piece by piece, all my life.  Now, what comes out of my brain is just the results of working hard at trying to understand something I can't fully understand, or explain, myself.


I was talking to my friend, Susie, this week.  Every once in a while I give her things I've written.  She confided in me, she doesn't always understand it, until I explain it to her.  I told her it wasn't important that you fully understand what I write, but it is important that you feel what I write.  She nodded her head in agreement.


The same with the art teacher.  She saw a self-portrait collage of mine, and told me it wasn't me.  I redid it, and she said, "That's better", and gave me an A.  At the end of a semester, she collected and graded my sketch book, where everything and anything was in it.  I sketched, I drew and painted projects, I doodled....I pasted pictures, I wrote poetry.   She said to use it every day.  Make it your own.  When she handed mine back to me, she looked at me and said, "Oh, you're the one who writes poetry in her book."  I wanted to ask, "Do you really know who I am?"



by on ‎01-09-2011 01:46 PM

I like the designs of

georgia o keeffe 

georgia o keeffe


I live the movement of

edgar degas

edgar degas


I like the imagery of

Edward Hopper

Go to fullsize image


I like style that can tell a story, behind, and within, a story.  I said I liked detail, but not if it obscures the essence of the artist.  I've never read Annie Proulx.  I know the name, and that's all.  I don't like to have a flower, or a scene, given to me in great scientific detail.  My detail thinking will translate it for me.


I love to cook, baking or whatever...I'm good at throwing things together, and making them work.  I was taught to do things neatly, exactly.  I like neat homes, but now I can't tolerate trying to be neat.  I can't even read one book at a time, I have ten by my bed, which I read simultaneous, or in order of my moods.  I was taught to knit, but hated it.  It's too tedious.  If I made a mistake, it showed up, and I'd have to rip out rows and rows....it's not worth the aggravation.  No, my mother was patient with me, when she taught me, but told me I need, had to stick with it.  When I didn't, I disappointed.


I've done a lot of needle work, but find it boring.   If I'm going to sit that long, I'd rather be reading.   I used to sew on a sewing machine, making clothes, but I hate fighting inanimate objects, that think they're animate.... like a machine that wants to break my thread, or the needle, or ball it's thread up into the bobbin. I'm frustrated with things that are unpredictable, or I can't make work.....like myself.  I like flow, where ever it leads.  Style can be moody.  This is me, in every last freaking detail.  And that's all you're going to hear about me, from me.  I'm done, I'm done, I'm done....turn me over, I'm done!

by on ‎01-09-2011 09:47 PM

Okay, I lied!  I really am done, now (I think), with putting together a book of...... I hauled out every last bit of meaningful blather I've written, (meaningful to me) and plopped it down into 101 pages.  I should call it, writing, 101..Ha! 


Since I've been given the title of a writer of prosetry, that's going to be the title..Prosetry In Motion, A Love Affair.  (Gee, I hope no one steals this title, before I get this thing published).   I'm taking the subject of the written word, and smooching and slobbering all over it. 


So, now comes the big move....finding someone who wants to go through and comb out the bad stuff.  On second thought, I think I'll leave it all the way it's written....that's my style!


And I think I'll dedicate it to you, Ilana, and send a copy to each of your friends and family members, and let them know what a wonderful job you did with this clown in the back of the room.  I even threw the story of the weed in it, too!  (I'm smiling right now)  Of course, I'm kidding; about which part of this, I'm not telling!


I'm going to shut down my computer for the night, make something fantastic to eat, and then try to find that darn sock!

by on ‎01-10-2011 04:31 PM

Now that I've written, again on this blog, the meaning of [my] life, I think it's time I got relatively serious. 


I agree, that style, in whatever form it decides to rear its head, is primarily acquired at an early age.  Maybe even earlier than the age of 30.  Awareness a the key word, I think.


This definitely has to do with all that you mentioned, not just the age factor.  Genetics.  People say things like:  you get that from your mother, or father, or grandparent.  Or the influences from a sibling, or friend play into it....habits play into it, too.  And for some reason we start to identify, if we like what we hear or see, we practice those things.  Emulating, copying.  I still do it to this day. 


I grew up in a period and place in time, where we wrote letters.  We wrote every detail of what was going on in our lives. I see it in how I write, today.  We didn't chat on phones, phones were only used if needed.  Keep it short and to the point, especially if it was a long distance call.  That's probably why I identify so closely with the written word, rather than being in a phone conversation.  That's probably why I think it's a luxury to have face to face conversations, too.  Language comes in so many forms.


The world was a smaller place in which to grow up, in my time.  A small community near LA, is where I lived.  I think I've mentioned this, I grew up in a movie theater, as Carol Burnett has said about herself - only, I didn't have to pay for my ticket, or my popcorn!  My dad managed the theater.  And it wasn't just on Saturday matinées that I was there..


I had advantages she didn't have.  I was exposed to many different people, and many different things which influenced my life and the way I think, see, and feel.  How I think, and why I think; how I look, and what I wear, what I read and how I read....how I write, and what I write, is definitely a product of who I am.  I love  the lights and the darks, and even though I can keep them separate, I find I like to write about the grays.  The ambiguous.  I really don't know what my style is called.  Does it have a name?  A contest:  Name this style in ten words or less!

by on ‎01-11-2011 12:16 PM
January 6, 2011
Bird Cloud 
Reviewed by Debra Monroe


I just read this review from the B&N's Our Week In Review.  Click on this writer's name, and it will take you to this in depth review.  Now, I remember who Annie Proulx is.  I am sorry, I read this author's book, The Shipping News, and totally forget  her name.  I remember liking the novel, it stuck in my mind for a long time,  but I never pursued her writing.  It was too long ago to remember why. 

by CasperAZ on ‎01-11-2011 01:02 PM

When Annie Proulx created the characters of Jack Twist and Ennis DelMar in "Brokeback Mountain," she made those characters become flesh and blood.  The novel was later transformed into a great motion picture.  Annie knows the West and when you read one of her books, you become captivated with the charm of the Old West that is somehow made new again.


Annie Proulx is a triumph for contemporary literature of our times.

by Fricka on ‎01-11-2011 05:29 PM

Style is primarily a matter of choice. For the painter, it's perhaps guided by what medium he or she works in, but then there's also whether the art expressed is in a more realistic or abstract mode. Writers perhaps don't have so many options, but there are still choices one can make to effect the sentence structure that is the primary reflection of style. As someone who's taught Composition to College students, I have seen all kinds of papers reflecting different choices and even abilities. Since we are mainly discussing writing styles, I have to say that there is a great difference between a writer who has been an avid reader and one who isn't. The non-reader may have some good ideas, but is limited in the choices he or she makes for sentence combinations. An expert writer can choose to compose complex or compound sentences, and have more variety of word choice to play with. Writers who want to entertain yet educate can incorporate vocabulary germane to a certain subject area for the reader's benefit. Personally, I find that books which include information about a period of history or a subject matter I am unfamiliar with enticing. So, if a writer like Annie Proulx uses what may seem to be arcane floral vocabulary in a novel, that is her writing talent or genius, in educating the reader while telling her story. Don't know what a word means? Look it up!  That's the writer's perogative, and a perceptive reader will get the hint.

by on ‎01-12-2011 10:53 AM

I think the real crux of this is, it appears we all have personal choices we make, in all that we do in our lives, but it's the end result that becomes our working style, as is with our personality.  I may know and appreciate, and try, all art, but what I settle with, personally, is who I am...my style.  I've studied and tried a lot of different mediums and styles of visual art, but I landed in making shapes out of clay.  I choose the colors that bring those shapes alive. 


I love the freedom I have in design

where I can dance with those lines

and those lines become mine.

and I find

there is something in my mind

that always likes to rhyme

whether I like it or not!

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