Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tapping the Energy

Book stores, particularly large ones, seethe with the energy of the potential find, the discovery that you'll tuck under your arm, take home, and fall in love with. True enough, many of the books fall into the more commercial genera, but even in those, chance lurks.

Used book stores are another kind of matter and a decidedly different energy, the same kind you pay court to at an animal shelter where you see dogs that have found their way into these Motel 6s of impending misfortune. A book in a book store is almost invariably some kind of hard luck story, just as a dog in an animal shelter speaks of a less kind aspect of life.

But we're talking here about places where books wait for the right owner to come fetch them from this surrounding and take them someplace special.

So too, then,do writers' classes exude energy, particular first meetings of writers classes where students size up the instructor, waiting to see if the chemistry is there, if in fact the chemistry trumps the theory. And the instructors, they wait like mothers outside Manhattan schools, carefully comparing their progeny with the peers of their progeny, looking for clues, hints about intelligence, intimations of greatness. Instructors watch their first-meeting students for the very same quality, that nascent presence of voice and drive and imagination that will, one day soon, produce something so stunning that to read it is to be moved to tears, then gales of laughter, then insights that lift off the ground like an aircraft laden with wealthy tourists.

Of course it is all a sophistry; the energy comes from our selves and we read, teach, and write to capture it in some form or another.

I was at a lecture once where a major writer, Thornton Wilder, was the guest speaker, now subjecting himself to a thorough grilling by the audience. Where do you get your ideas. How much revision do you do? Are you a moralist or a dramatist or perhaps an Episcopalian. You appear to have aged very nicely and to have written your way into a distinguished middle age. Given your successes and perspective, what changes would you make in The Bridge of San Luis Rey were you to rewrite it now? Actually, it's a good thing I wrote it then, I wouldn't have to write it now.

Writing--the prospecting for an energetic commitment. Maturity--the management of energy to the point where, having written what one had to write, one is free to abandon the things one is no longer forced to write.

What forces us to write things? Money? The desire for fame? Revenge.

Tonight I landed a poet who, when she realized she'd signed on to a fiction course, began putting some notes down on paper, then discovered that, hey, fiction can be fun.

I noted her name and her energy.

Off to a good start.