What does it all mean? It’s a universal question – one uttered in countless works of literature, rendered in paintings, the topic of many a teenage journal, the theme of Hollywood blockbusters. But for me, as I lay spine-in-the dirt, I was asking the question from quite a literal perspective.
Above me were suns, moons, animals, rattlesnakes and geometric shapes in reds, turquoises, yellows, blacks. They were painted pictographs – part of an ancient Apache shrine.
Not far from my home and painted on the ceiling of a protected limestone shelter, the images are fading away as sunlight/erosion takes its toll. But worse: vandals have scrawled their ugly names on top of this once sacred site. Despite this outright display of disrespect and ignorance, I still found wonder in what I saw. What does it all mean?
Our neighbor, Mark, believes the keyhole-looking symbol below might be a comet. If you look closely, you’ll see there are actually two celestial/solar drawings to the left of it.
Closer inspection as I lay in my supine position, camera lens titled upward, revealed that one scene was, indeed, a death scene. I found this haunting and exhilarating – almost a sign – since my current work in progress explores life-death themes. More than anything, I was totally energized after seeing this wondrous display of storytelling from civilizations dating back to the 1500s (tour guide-friend-neighbor Mark’s guess is that this site might have cropped up later in the 1700s).
How do you interpret these painted pictures? Do you see the double-rattled snake striking its victim? Does it depict some kind of biologic anomaly? Or a vision brought on by a hallucination? What do the crosses, circles and squiggles mean? What do you see?
For Writers: Speaking of interpretation … As writers, we often must interpret criticism of our work – from critique groups, writing coaches, contest submissions, and agents who have requested our partials and fulls (many of whom ultimately turn them down).
Many of us hope to learn more about our novels from the agent responses we receive. But should we, really? Agents are ultra busy – reading through a lot of good queries and manuscripts – and a lot of crap. And really … it’s not their job to critique our work for free, pointing out our errors (even if they did have time). But somehow, I think most of us still hope they will offer some morsel of insight, even if they pass on our work.
Fellow writers – and agents – how should we interpret our rejections? When they’re confusing and appear to be deliberately ambiguous, do we just stash them away and move on? When they seem to vaguely say the same thing but are difficult to interpret, do we ask our writing partners for their analysis? Do we continue editing in the hopes that we’ve guessed correctly at ‘what might be wrong.’ Or … do we altogether just let it go? Move on to the next novel?
MISSED MY PHOTO CONTEST? Pick your favorite from the Top 5 (and leave a comment) this week to win prizes: Therese Walsh’s The Last Will of Moira Leahy, Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You, or a print from photographer Damien Franco!