Sunday, April 5, 2009

For the fun of it

fun--an engulfing sense of pleasure; a condition of being transported into a zone of carefree, sensuous, and intellectual awareness by a combination of stimuli; an antidote to boredom, depression, or gloom; what writing should be for the reader and the writer.

A number of writers, enormously skilled and well progressed in the development of their talent, neither suicidal nor given to depression, emerge as serious, argumentative, perhaps even gloomy. Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates come to mind in this context as examples. Nevertheless, these writers all continue at their writing efforts because not doing so would produce a sense of disconnect with the inner landscape they strive at such effort to achieve. No matter what one may think, they are having fun while they are working.

Writing has been justly described as hard work, but the mere fact of its difficulty should not and does not preclude the results of it being fun for the writer as well as the reader. Fun, it may be argued, appears when an individual becomes interested and involved in the work at hand. Albert Camus argued that Sisyphus, given his ordained task, was nevertheless a happy man, a judgment to give us pause. How, we wonder, can an eternity of performing a meaningless task, make the performer happy? And if Sisyphus is happy, does that mean he is having fun?

The very nature of writing produces frustration in the writer, primarily because of the difficulty in translating the vision of the project into words that do it sufficient justice. In a real sense, writers (artists of any sort) are doomed to the frustration of "not getting it right," which is to say not rendering the vision adequately enough. This is fun? Well yes,it is. Like Sisyphus, you take pleasure in lending your skills to a task that appears hopeless from the get-go, leaving you in the same mind set as Samuel Beckett, who said, "Fail again, only next time fail better."

Every time we read a poem, a short story, or novel that moves us in some primal way, our exquisite response blazes across the night sky of our imagination like a fire fly, intense, brief, and gone. In its place, to extend a mixed-metaphor, we are faced with the vision of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, handed a packet of crayons, then told, "Go thou and do likewise." And yet, some of us will do just that, diving into the project to the point of losing the hopelessness of the task, seeing connections, possibilities, opportunities. The last part of that equation is fun in action. Like the fire fly, it is intense and brief. It is the writer's job to keep it from being gone.

Elmore Leonard, a writer who knows a thing or two about having fun, has shone his light into the darkness. "Only write the scenes that interest you," he has said. This dictum could well be studied alongside Camus's essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus," for its implications. There is a particular scene that you don't feel like writing. A literary agent and/or editor wants that particular scene in place before the manuscript can progress toward publication. The answer: find a way to make yourself like the scene. Do something to it and the characters within it to make the writing of it become not a chore but fun. What attitudes did Sisyphus need to allow him to take pleasure from what would seem a hopeless, eternal exercise of rote behavior? How could he, of all people, think to fail better next time? Are the Karma Yogis--work as worship--having fun? And what about that remarkable line from the Bhagavad-Gita, "To the work you are entitled, but not the fruits thereof."? Surely there is flat out fun to be had from such approaches.

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