Friday, November 21, 2008

Who Was That Writer I Saw You With?

Part of the attraction of the alternate universe meme is the happenstance in which, for good or ill, you meet yourself in a former incarnation, which is to say you find or are reminded of previous work you have not thought about for some time. The immediate good accrues when, after a gulp or two, you recognize how far you've progressed since them. But the ill part comes when the other shoes is dropped, the other shoe being the question, Have you come far enough since then?

Then, depending on when it was in relationship to the now you inhabit so loftily, may have carried no urgency with it except the urgency to get some ink, to see yourself in print, to attract a complementary or nasty letter to the editor. Were this the case, you for your part engaged in writing to appeal to people, wanting an audience. Were indeed this the case, your subtext could well have been: What do they want already, I'm writing as entertainingly as possible?

If Then were not all that long ago and the project never did find its way to an audience, the subtext could easily have been: I still like it, or Well, onward to the next one. Thus will it become clear to you that you already had the audience you wanted; you were writing to yourself and can see now as you saw when you wrote the piece whether it keeps you interested, caring, moving over the page with concern as opposed to the kind of dull-eyed lapse you fall into when watching a friend's videotapes of his or her summer vacation.

Should you ever find yourself on the receiving end of good notices, complements addressed to something specific you have sent forth to make its way out into the world, it becomes worthwhile to see if you can capture the self or selves responsible for that work, then send them a message: Nice going, but things are going to be different from now on. The goal is to get beyond liking yourself so much that your goal is to play to that audience instead of playing to the audience of the gallery of ideas, landing spots, and spontaneous wonders hiding in your toolkit, step forth in some hastily contrived vehicle from which you launch yourself afresh at the world.

The world of commerce is a lovely scatter of venues and perspectives wherein sometimes the most innocent thing flung against the barn wall sticks and the purely original thing fails to leave any trace of its existence. Believers in free market as we are, we also have to believe that the purely original thing can find a home in the market without any visible reason.

No wonder so many of us are considered mad men and mad women; no wonder so many exquisitely realized and written things are equated to poetry because, after all, poetry is madness in meter or cadence or image.

The real goal then is to strive for the dance of madness instead of the lock step of safety. When we talk about revision, it is wise to consider revisiting a project in light of what we have learned from having lived it and executed it, but it is no less wise to search through the work for lingering traces of sanity, then draw the most wonderful of all proofreader's marks through them--the places where things make logical sense, where grammar and syntax trump heart beats and the syncopated pit-a-pat of risk.

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