Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ars longa, vita brevis

With abundant thanks to the world of the blog and Internet search engines as well as friends who are writers and former students who check in, you have a wide swath of sources--a considerable demographic, in fact-- from which to chose when you want to see how things are progressing for other writers.  The demographic is so vast that at times you begin to construct a list of priorities to be discovered in their musings.  Some of the favored topics are in no particular order save the order of whim: coffee, agents, editors, persistence, revision, brick walls, self-reliance, self-doubt, coffee, agents, rejection slips, shadenfreude, conformity, copyediting, debts, day jobs, understanding mates, not understanding mates, being published, not being published, fear of being misunderstood, fear of revealing family secrets.

You have had lead roles in productions staring most of these concerns, having worked your way through most of them to the point where you began this form of note-taking, the blog, as a reference point by which you can return to see what you've worked out and which things are still clamoring for your attention, the common denominator being the old truism of ars longa, vita brevis.  Your notebooks and blog entries are in a real sense a measure of your evolution, a metaphoric wall or door jamb on which are penciled the heights of your growth along with approximate dates.

It is your view that those writers whose major goal it is to achieve publication are in a bubble just as writers who have been severally published inhabit yet another.  Just as you were helped in making the transfer from one to the other, you've had a hand in assisting others, a nice, almost deus ex machina tidiness, but nevertheless a way of paying back favors, a way, to quote from one of your students, of paying it forward.

At focus here is the notion that writing, reading, and talking are functions most of us perform every day, many of us with no thought of improving our abilities either of performance or understanding.  For some years, your shibboleth was wanting to be the best writer you could be, then going beyond that, which is about as unspecific as one can get while still preserving the sense of righteous conviction.  A drunk in a parking lot brawl has as much if not more conviction.  Thus your journals and notes to define what it is you seek and how you intend taking one of the things most civilized persons can do--write, read, and talk--and making a career of it.

One of the things you admire most about your Internet acquaintances is their persistence; not only do their writings radiate the desire to write, their output and the subsequent despair when there is no output serve as tangible evidence of their intent.  One writer you know, a former student, has persisted her way into publication, her persistence overcoming what you consider a notable lack of native ability.  Another writer you know, slippery and elusive with talent, has avoided publication by a persistent lack of persistence in sending her works forth.  

Back to the bubbles:  It is your view that those who have not yet articulated such things as what they want to write, what their purpose in writing is, and what distinguishes their results from the results of other writers is doomed to the--watch for badly mixed metaphor here--bubble equivalent of the kiddies' sandbox.

Most of the experienced writers you know, regardless of their age, are remarkable in their idiosyncratic ability to put forth their ideas in speech and writing and to glean from the works of others they read an inspirational level of understanding.  Case in point is the English writer Jonathan Raban, who moved to Seattle some years ago and is for all practical purposes bi-citizen, American and Brit.  You first came upon him years back, pitched a review of an early book of his paired with the first work of William Least-Heat Moon.  Just recently, in the London Times Literary Supplement, you came upon a retrospective view of his take on an early work by one of his university teachers, the noted teacher and critic, William Empson.  Within ten minutes of reading that essay by Rabin, you were over at Amazon, ordering The Seven Types of Ambiguity, Empson's major work.  You ordered it because the concept of ambiguity has been on your mind for some time, but more to the point, you ordered it because you admire the writing of Jonathan Raban.  The book arrived and you fell on it.  So far, it is a major disappointment, which means you still have the potential of adventure and discovery in your attempts to read it.

Ambiguity is a fact of life.  So are reading, writing, and speaking.  So, too, is persistence.  To do whatever it is we hope to do, with any hope at all of that great intangible, happiness, we must persist in coming to terms with ambiguity, sitting across the table with it, dining with it, eating with it, reading with it, understanding what writing means.  For you, the writing you are most focused on is writing that involves story.  This appropriately adds the need to seat story at the table even if the subject at hand to be written about is a book review.  There is some story inherent in the review or, as you judge such things, what you have produced is an outline, a summary, a precis, an apercu.  The subtext to all of this is to get as much of yourself into what is produced as possible, to the point where it reflects you and, even though it may be ambiguous to some, does not equivocate.

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