Monday, April 5, 2010

Itch

There are days when you don't get anything worth keeping.

Back in the old days, days of the typewriter, not getting anything worth keeping meant a waste basket filled with wadded-up yellow second sheets, your preferred means of start up until you'd become convinced you had in fact something going.

The wadded-up yellow sheets were in and about a waste basket of modest size and proportion, large enough to house the waste of a day or two, its original design long since covered over with a collage of rejection slips in varying sizes and colors, many from magazines even then no longer publishing. They peered forth from under a protective coating of clear varnish, a kind of irony in the sense of why would you want to preserve and protect rejection slips? It was neither originality nor irony you were after when you added to the design of that waste basket, rather it was a reminder of the world you had chosen, where, like random event, rejection slips often had no meaning other than an ad hoc no as opposed to any greater judgment.

The rejection slips you get today are more likely to be letters, much less impersonal in their no, more a reminder that you subscribe to Thomas Carlyle's concept of The Everlasting No, as in You shall not be daunted. These communications go into a folder which you trot out from time to time to show students what awaits and some of what it all means.

But this is not about rejection slips or that aspect of the life you have chosen; this is about nothing, which is to say it is about the days in which the sum total of your work amounts to nada, zip, zilch.

Nothing is the result of trying to produce. The efforts may be applied to a work in progress, a work in which you already have some sort of vision and investment of feelings and intent. You know the individuals and the circumstances in which they behave. It is not so much that you have no clue what comes next as it is that you have no feeling for the authenticity and veracity of the next word, the next movement. You are not there and as a consequence of that, you are trying too hard, perhaps even thinking, which at that stage of things is always a danger, a sort of Let's see what happens if I stick my finger in this electrical outlet. Sometimes coffee helps. Coffee at home vs coffee out. Now you have the glorious distraction of deciding where. The baristas and coffee at Peet's are incomparable and they do know your preferences often to the point where you are able to secure your coffee and retreat to your favorite corner table without having uttered a word. The coffee isn't as good at La Luna, but quite often the baristas radiate the effect of post-coital tristesse, making them interesting and your own frame of reference speculative, alert for signals and impressions from the outer world. The coffee at The Coffee Bean is servicable and the baristas there radiate the impression of wishing they were in the afterglow of post-coital behavior, which is a different vibe from La Luna. You have the option then of at least three places to go in your attempts to get something when there has so far been nothing. If none of these seem appropriate, you can always go to the Laguna Market, a splendid enclave appropriately on Laguna street in the part of downtown that is truly funky and is out of the self-conscious Funk Zone, down by Garden and Gutierrez, where fish markets, Red's, an eclectic gallery/wine bar/coffee shop and The Santa Barbara Winery Tasting Room compete with small, nondescript stores in which marginal persons attempt to sell marginal dreams. It is perhaps this last awareness that keeps you out of The Funk Zone unless The Burger Bus happens to be parked in the Red's parking lot; you are no stranger to marginality nor marginal dreams.

You spend such days resorting to highly idiosyncratic formulae; a person who did not know you might even think you superstitious. But you are not. You are merely on such days after a decent page. You will even settle for a decent sentence, one you can keep as a token of having got something for the day. It may even be a not-quite-keeper, a sentence that will send you reeling drunkenly off tomorrow when you approach the keyboard or the note pad.

Most days, you get something. On such days you are not a danger to yourself or anyone around you; you have managed to reach the seemingly unreachable spot on your back, where you are able, having got something, to scratch an intolerable itch into the post-scratch tristesse. The days when you get nothing, you are thus doomed to wandering about with an intolerable itch that is just beyond your reach.

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