Thursday, March 4, 2010

Up to Your Ass in Writers

With increasing regularity, you discover new additions to what you have come to think of as The-More-Now-Than-Ever-Before List. The most recent candidate surfaced in this morning's New York Times, where you read that two hundred fifty thousand individuals a year are having hip-replacement surgery in the U.S. Having experience with such things, you took in the information with a knowing nod, thinking about an experience you had not that long ago when gentleman approached you at the Y, with a polite, "I couldn't help noticing the scar on your hip." He wanted and you provided assurance. "Down side, if you were a distance runner, you'd better get comfortable with swimming. Up side, adios pain and stiffness."


Similarly, you noticed a statistic in which fifty thousand individuals a year receive their MFA in some form of creative writing program, giving you the sense of being up to your ass in writers. But you pretty much were from the onset, back before you saw graduate school as a trampoline to publication, back indeed before you had any notion of the teaching vector you would follow. From teen age (with a forged identity card proclaiming your age to be twenty-two) onward, you were up to your ass in writers to the point where Dorothy B. Hughes, one you greatly admired, maneuvered you into taking her place as an officer in the Mystery Writers of America.

True enough, you have lived significant portions of your life where there was no dearth of writers, indeed are virtual magnets for writers, thus your large N-sampling for the observation "Writers are a lonely lot." In one sense, they are no such thing. There are writers' conferences, scholarships, contests, organizations (such as Writers Guild of America, Mystery Writers, Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writers, not to forget Romance Writers or the still flourishing Western Writers), credit unions, workshops, schools, and now the cyber gathering spots such as InkByte and the amazing group of writer associates you have found throughout this country, our cherished neighbors to the north, and our cousins from those emerald isles, with whom it is a likely prospect to exchange words on some regular basis. Then there are former students, spread about the globe, faculty mates, and publishing friends. What's to be lonely?

Well.

The loneliness comes into the picture in an existential way. Each of us projects forth a working plan in which some form of loneliness, even if it originates in the noisy venues of Peet's Coffee Shop here in Santa Barbara or, for instance, your chum Marta, from Austin, Texas, Genuine Joe's Coffee Shop, is the base cause for focus on the work in progress. Through such focus emerges attitude from which comes voice, from which comes the idiosyncratic outcome that is ours alone and with which we must live and draw nourishment from the Cosmos. No one bathes in the same river twice, sage Heraclitus said. Similarly, no two writers tell the same story even though the events may be identical. Nor do two editors approach the same manuscript as though there were only one editorial vision possible.

You could, for an example, see one of your closest friends take an approach to a work in which you have some investment that is completely at odds to your own approach. The matter quickly devolves to this: If he is in fact a close friend, you may well deplore his approach but at the same time you will applaud him for having it, recognizing beyond your own close-range vision his self being informed by his vision. And so the loneliness begins as we face the potential for the rifts in friendships we read of in books and Vanity Fair, or the awareness that there is strength and stature and voice in the vision that informs our own personal taste in what we write, what we read, and who we hang out with. This is by no means the arrogance of intransigence nor the unwillingness to see a better way, it is instead the freeing awareness of how good it is to have arrived at what we are at a given moment in our time. You still have an issue with Charlotte Bronte, dead since 1855. You still think the place to have ended Jane was with that magnificent line, "Reader, I married him." Yet you can still bring yourself to reread Jane every year or so, to your considerable benefit.

How splendid it is to be up to your ass in writers.

How splendid it is to be a lonely writer.

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