Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Influences

You needed considerable time--years in fact--to move away from your rebellion against Annie and Jake, easing instead into a conversation, even dialogue with them. There are still times when you hear yourself talking about them or when you find yourself thinking about them, when you realize some of the outposts of rebellion are still in effect, reminding you of those stories of Japanese soldiers on remote Pacific Islands, holding out long after WW II had ended, their loyalties still out there for the emperor and what the empire stood for.


The necessary time to effect this shift was, you now see, in direct proportion to the distance you hoped to place between you and them. What could be more an issue than a young person, respectful of his parents, wishing to forge his own ways and styles, his own vocabulary, his own voice? What could be more ironic than a young person becoming aware of the vast devotion and affection his parents inspired universally, while he enjoyed no such connective tissue? What issue could be taken more ironically by this callow young man than being told his parents actually wanted him?

It took considerable hand wringing and flat-out rebellion to arrive at the same kind of conversation and dialogue with literary parents and influences, none of whom actively sought him out in the first place. In a grim coincidence, the rebellion against Annie and Jake came out at the same time you were alternately seeking freedom from and scurrying to the protective cover of:

Samuel L. Clemens,
Francis Scott Fitzgerald,
Ernest Miller Hemingway,
Ring Lardner,
James Agee,
William Saroyan,
John Fante,
Carson McCullers,
Dorothy Parker,
Edna St. Vincent Millay,
James M. Cain,
Dashiell Hammett,
Raymond Chandler,
John Steinbeck,
Jane Austen,
Geoffrey Chaucer.

At the current stage in your life, you are completely thrilled to see or hear of any trait of Annie or Jake emergent in you. Nor do you become defensive or argumentative should you see traces of "them," those others, in your work; their appearance in your work, just as a walk-on by Annie or Jake in your persona are welcomed as influences, not as individuals you are attempting to imitate.

In truth, you have tried to imitate them all, including Annie and Jake, but you discovered to your frustration at first and then your growing awareness that they cannot be imitated, they matter to you because they are so clearly recognizable; no one asks of them "What do you mean?" Persons may well ask of you, "What do you mean?" at which point you have to go to the source, yourself, ask yourself what you meant by that, then produce an answer. You also need to make sure you write that answer down so that you will remember it and be influenced by it.

You did make a prodigious attempt to do many of the things SLC did, bumming about the West, even working for his old paper, the Territorial-Enterprise, but the bite was missing until you realized it was not enough to be angry at the things he was angry at; you had to learn what you were angry at, then see where it led you. You spent considerable time wandering about Fante's Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, thinking how wonderful it would be to live in one of the building alongside the steep incline of the Angel's Flight, but you lacked his poetry, which made perfect sense because it was not your poetry and although you admired his passion and his music, you admired them because they were poetry and music, but his poetry and music, not your own. You had similar "encounters" with all the others, having a particularly difficult time of it with F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom you envied for the results of his work rather than the actual work itself.

Once you and a chum who also cherished writing ambitions grew by degrees increasingly more drunk, taking turns, as it were, giving up some of your favorites. You didn't realize at the moment how you were giving up the notion of copying them or their lifestyle, but rather you were giving up the notion of imitating them, which is to say trying to counterfeit them. You and your chum came to the same conclusion the next day when neither of you had a hangover headache, as though some great gift were visited upon you. Nor did the room spin nor the mid night supper at Ah Fong's on Sunset and Crescent Heights come up to inflict misery upon you.

Hardcover books today sell at twenty-five and twenty-six dollars, you tell students. Why would anyone pay that much to get you in imitation of someone else? Invariably, they will respond with a bleat, But how else do I get there? And the answer is that nobody knows but if you are going to get there at all, it will most likely be as you sounding like you.

Sometimes, when you are reading through your work, you will be caught off guard by a comparison or a particularly deft combination of words, producing an image that produces deep within you a mischievous laughter and you think, pure Twain, twenty-first century. Sometimes you will happen upon a particular understanding of the human condition and you think Fitzgerald might nod approval, although he might then scold you for some earlier infraction. You had the good grace to excuse yourself when someone observed you were stepping on Jane Austen, and it pleased you to think you heard her voice telling you to mind, don't let it happen again now that you know the rules.

It is so much nicer now, them knowing they no longer have to take care of you or even warn you off projects that lack merit; you knowing that they owe you nothing beyond the considerable pleasure they have afforded you and whatever wisdom and understanding you got from them came not from them hectoring you but rather you listening to them. That, of course, goes for Jake and Annie, too.

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