Monday, September 27, 2010

What do you mean?

When a friend or acquaintance ask you "What do you mean?" after you've made some stab at a relevant response, your answer is apt to be a more detailed answer because you've been conversationally alerted to the need for more specificity and/or relevance.  Your response tends to be reflexive because you're used to your own battles between specificity and its potential bed mate, boredom, and the earnest desire to be understood in as much dimension and nuance as possible.  This is particularly so because you are so fond of puns.

When a literary agent or editor asks you, "What do you mean?" a different response emerges, equally fraught with conflict between irritation with the questioner for not getting "it," whatever "it" was and your deep conviction that what you'd been questioned on was as rich with meaning and texture as a cheesecake from Junior's is rich in flavor and texture.  You mostly know what you mean and when you don't know what you mean, you have a sense of intent that pulls you along as you slap down a word at a time as though you were engaged in a competitive game of cribbage. slapping down strategic cards one at a time.

A sincere part of writing becomes engaged when you have not yet sorted out the complexities of the emotional wiring diagram that is you; the words and sentence follow, giving you some hope you're on to something, perhaps even that you'll be able to identify that something.

You've had too many occasions to respond to "What do you mean?" with "What do you mean, what do I mean?" delivered as a riposte.  You needed a new strategy, learned at great pain and thoughtfulness.  "Okay, what I meant was---" is as good a response as any because you now have a few seconds, perhaps even as many as ten, to collect thoughts and begin explaining your way along the contentious pathway of clarity.

It's been some time since you've discovered the frequency with which you begin writing something to discover your intent, then arm-wrestle the meaning out of it. And so the adventure continues.  Only in recent times have you felt such a connection to your characters, richer, more supple than before, where they were invented to serve some plot-driven situation that reeked of your attempts to concoct it.  Now there is the sense of, dare you use the word collegiality given your complex feelings about universities?  Well, you dare, and you have those feelings about characters that are all cognates of the verb to love.

3 comments:

Storm Dweller said...

Explaining to someone what you mean sometimes to me is akin to when someone asks, "What is the definition of that word?" My first response is a dear in the headlights stare, as my brain tries to comprehend the other party's incomprehension, and then trying to recover from appearing stupid the words all cleanly fly out of my head in order to answer them. I know that there is an instictive understanding of the concept a word carries with it, beased on it's delivery, placement, and the tone of the sentence around it, but boiling it down to a text book definition doesn't come naturally to me.

The same goes for "What do you mean?" And I am left asking, "What do you mean what do I mean? I know perfectly well what I mean, and if there was a way to say it any more succinctly I would have." Which of course is not always true, because if it had been conveyed in a succinct manner in the first place, they wouldn't have had to ask.

Storm Dweller said...

I need to fire my typist. She's clearly not proof reading her work.

Shelly Lowenkopf said...

You are hereby my dear in the headlights, because you are dear and because you do so rigorously shine the light of investigation on yourself.