Sunday, March 18, 2007

Here There Be Wrytres!

Some of my best friends are writers, which is to say I have grown up with men and women to whom I was drawn because we shared this passion, a passion we attempted to simultaneously understand and master. Most of us have long since given up trying to understand it; we have come to the awareness that trying to understand a thing often takes time away from doing it and, indeed, trying to master it. Most of us have also discovered that trying to master the process has become of a piece with the advance in computer technology. We no sooner go on the hook for a new computer when we learn of a vastly superior computer to the one we have just purchased on deferred payment. We no sooner feel a sense of familiarity (if not superiority) with a technique when we read a story or novel in which another writer has made us painfully aware that, well, that we were not as far along as we thought.

These friendships with writers are complex and life sustaining. I am reminded of this in more ways that I can enumerate. Having just last night returned from Woodside, the lovely semi-rural fringe between Palo Alto and Redwood City, where I hosted my every-other-month Woodside Writing Workshop, I come, tired-but-buzzing-with-ideas from the readings, the commentary, the interests, and the energy of writers, many of whom I've known for upward of twenty years. Among the group are MDs, shrinks, corporate execs, professors. Andy Grose, an MD, exemplifies the vibe. I am not, Andy insists, a doctor; I am a writer.

I arrive home just in time to fire up my Acer and get in a blog entry before midnight, which is to say I rush home to work off some of the excitement of being a writer. This is not really bragging, I reason, if it is done to one's self and is not meant to make me feel superior to, say, the persons ahead of me as I stand in the check-out line at Vons grocery or the, pun intended, check-in line at Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, Upper Village Branch. It is a part of writerly muscle memory.

Just before yesterday's session begins, I am in the sumptuous kitchen of Flip and Jim Caldwell's home, pouring coffee and looking at Jim Caldwell's large painting of a scene at Venice, showing a cluster of buildings, emphasizing the play of light. At the very foreground, two motor boats, in motion, veer toward us. One boat is bathed in light as, indeed, the left side of the canvas is; the other boat, larger, slower than than the boat on the left, is shrouded with shadow.

There are people, artists among them, who could look at that picture, I observe, and immediately be able to tell from the play of the light what time it is. True enough, Jim Caldwell observes, but that would scarcely register because of the ways in which I have tweaked the viewer's visual priorities.

The creator as tweaker.

We all do it, and when we tweak at our best, we tweak not from thought but from muscle memory, from countless trial runs, practice, drafts, torn-up pages, impatient pushing at the delete key. Whoever we are, we tweak until we get as close to the image we have in mind onto a resident place, a screen, a hard drive, a CD, a canvas, a sheet of paper. I have only to watch Liz Kuball, downloading images from her Canon 5D to her laptop, then sizing them on PhotoShop so that they will fit the space allowed by the Blog matrix to have the notion burned into my emotional archive.

I edit many of my friends; many writers I met as an editor have become friends. Diane edits me. Liz edits me. I edit Digby. Digby ignores my edits, throws everything out, recircles the wagons, protecting against Indians I have not even thought about.

I have edited men and women I have never known in real time. In some ghoulish cases, I have edited some authors who were no longer alive to consult with.

Many of the writers I consider friends are not only dead, they have been dead for years before I was born.

Many writers I read and admire are known sons of bitches, Republicans, reprobates, homophobes, anti-Semites and what have you. I would not want to know them in person even if I could.

As I say: it is a complex relationship, being in love with a writer's visions and technique.

A few days ago, Liz Kuball sent me the now iconic Guggenheim blog by Zoe Strauss and directly I read it, I felt the magic click into place wherein I recognized the genie in the bottle I wrote of a few days ago. The irresistible urge was planted and I have since linked Zoe to a set of my intellectual and emotional archives that began with my having read an essay by Leslie Fiedler in which he wrote of Herman Melville writing about Nathaniel Hawthorne that there was a grand truth about him. "He says No! in thunder; but the Devil himself cannot make him say yes." I wrote to Sol Stein, no slouch of a writer, but also at the time publisher of Stein & Day Publishers. I introduced myself to Sol so that I could thank him for publishing Leslie Fiedler.

Sol and I became friends and yes, he even sent me something he'd written, asking me to comment and check it over for soft spots.

I told you it's complicated.

It gets even better. Last night, tired and spaced-out from a day of running a workshop for writers, then driving three hundred miles, then slipping in a blog entry, I check out Zoe, whom I have never met but now "know" because of her Guggenheim blog. Doing so is like deliberately choosing as a picnic site a place that has been recently struck by lightning. You can see the charred tree trunk, smell the ozone and burnt leaves. And there goes any chance of a restful night of sleep. I am thinking as I read Zoe Strauss's latest No!in thunder, "there is a grand truth about her."

She says she is pissed and overwhelmed and going incognito to sort out feelings and once again, for this viewer, this reader, she has captured lightning in a bottle.

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