Monday, November 17, 2008

Wither, Thou Goest

In the spirit of essay-as-argument-to-some conclusion, I ask you to name a handful of your favored writers, gleaned not only from the present but centuries gone by. And you offer forth Geoffrey Chaucer, Mark Twain, Eudora Welty, Sarah Orne Jewett, Peter De Vries, Jim Harrison, Louise Erdrich, Mordicai Richler, Robertson Davies, Alice Munro, this combination having a splendid balance of regional integrity, an ear for the drama necessary in dialogue, a sense of irony, and yes, a sense of humor. Okay, throw in Raymond Chandler, too.

The absolute beauty of this diverse ensemble cast of writers is that there are so many of them, which reminds me of the trope that plagiarism is stealing from one author, research is stealing from many authors. Which brings to mind that because there are so many of them and I am in so much debt to all of them, each for differing reasons, that the result is an amalgamation: they have blended into a unified voice, which sounds like me.

From time to time, a new voice comes along, so tempting in its way that I become fearful of being sent to the Principal's office for copying his or her answers. George V. Higgins comes to mind and, woe unto me, frequent meetings with Elmore Leonard, whom I saw a number of times when I was with Dial Dell Delacorte, and whose Westerns I had already been intrigued with as he was setting forth into suspense with Fifty-two Pick-Up.

Nor did it do my emerging self any good when, as an undergrad, my classmate Greg Hemingway, telling me his dad really enjoyed my parody of him and thus my first awareness of who his dad was.

One question is, are you unconsciously "listening" to anyone? This is not a bad thing; not unless something is creeping in, you know, like commandos, their faces blackened, knit watch caps pulled low on their faces, sneaking through the enemy lines.

Another question in the face of your having to read and digest a book a week for your review column: Where is your reading taking you in terms of the effect on your attitudes? Yet another related question: If there is a tangible direction, is this truly you-related, a product of your age, culture, locale, politics, or have you "signed-on" some petition making the rounds on Twitter or the Internet or the University? Do you have anything to gain from attending the University's classes for faculty showing how to use YouTube to enhance your teaching apparatus?

The Writer's Mind is like fly paper. Lots of things stick to it that are not necessarily flies.

The act of thinking enhances the potential for the mischief of the mixed metaphor.

The pure voices you hear are the voices of humor, irony, injustice, yearning, elegance, complex harmony, simple harmony, beauty coming from unanticipated sources. These are in a shouting match with your tendency to pomposity(you can and do go on), naivete (it often comes to you that you are the last to know--about anything), impatience, reactive/defensive animosity (yeah, well screw you, too) right out of the schoolyard.

Fair enough. There wasn't a Fitzgerald or a John Banville or a Philip Pullman, or a Margaret Atwood in their midst. You didn't pause once to envy Colm Toibin or George Orwell or Joan Didion. You got through the Tea House Fire unscathed, with only the cloying smell of burned toast in your nostrils; you got out of the latest performance review with no reprimands in your portfolio.

But watch out. You live in a place where fire and earthquake are as common as the ticks you pluck from Sally; you live in a craft where more things than flies stick to fly paper; the writing life is a metaphor for California, the home of the humane mouse trap, where the mice are not killed, merely stuck to the floor of the trap.


Lori Witzel said...

Well, the handful, an uneven but tasty handful, at least as of this moment.

Wallace Stevens (sometimes he's too much for me, but still), Pattiann Rogers, Seamus Heaney (I'm still lit by his Electric Light collection), Sam Beckett, Nikolai Gogol (at least The Portrait and The Nose), John Donne's love poems, Anton Chekhov's short stories, Ed Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and Gretel Ehrlich (at least her The Solace of Open Spaces.)

Thanks for asking, it's fun to think about 'em all.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in SoCal: the Valley, Long Beach, Laguna Beach. The fires make me homesick, while rumors of the Santa Ana winds have me reaching for the Joan Didion books I swallowed whole when I fell in love with writing as a way of mapping the world. Glad you survived the latest conflagration- and, since we both live in CA (though I'm up north now)- may we both be out of town when the Big One hits!