Monday, November 29, 2010


For all its implications of tyrannical rule and a potential for Sisyphean boredom, practice still comes recommended as a catalyst for perfection.

You have to remind yourself from time to time what practice meant to you in earlier stages of your development; it meant learning your multiplication tables the better to participate in simple arithmetic, drawing endless rounds of ovals and slanty push-pulls to effect a semblance of legible penmanship, it meant endless practice alone in which you sought to understand first the physics of two colliding marbles, then the more nuanced results of collisions between billiard and snooker balls.  None of this practice brought you anywhere close to satisfaction let alone perfection.

As time passed, you practiced getting words down on endless reams of paper your father delivered from bankrupt organizations where he had been appointed by bankruptcy courts to liquidate assets.  Who would want stationery from a defunct organization?  You would.  You practiced sounding like Ernest Miller Hemingway, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, Gustave Flaubert, Ray Douglas Bradbury (to whom you delivered mail during Christmas breaks) and for a while the then-popular television playwright, Paddy Chayefsky ("I dunno, Marty, waddyou wanna do tonight?"), until, at length it came to you that you had no idea what you sounded like, then set about finding out on more reams of failed stationery, producing more failed stories and novels.  It came to you in a horrible realization that the things you wrote or wished to write were not described anywhere in books ostensibly intending to instruct beginning writers how and what to write and so you practiced discovering that as well.

Mind, it was not so much the notion of where a writer was supposed to acquire ideas for things to write about as it was the matter of taking such ideas, which were already floating about in orbit, then wrestling them to the ground.

You know or have known many musicians, none of whom ever ventured some estimate of how many notes they'd played to this point in their career although, truth to tell, you do hear many writers complaining about the number of words they have written with nothing approaching a satisfying result.  Some mathematician, overhearing you complain about the difficulties inherent in visualizing a million of anything asked you if you'd ever seen a full-panel screen door, in which there would be--give or take a few--a million tiny squares.  You had some wonderful reversal of example at the time because the mathematician had visions of becoming a writer.  One sentence for every square in the screen door, you said.

If anything, practice drives perfection farther off the chart; perfection of the sort writers, musicians, painters, photographers, actors have in mind is some unused Greek letter, representing a theoretical quality that can never be achieved.  In the first place, who the fuck would want to write a perfect novel when he or she could better write a stunning novel or an exemplary one or a riveting one or a transformational one such as The Plague of Doves?  Perfection is a systematic tweezing out of the imperfections that make a novel work in the first place; it is a short story with perfect characters and a perfect theme and perfect dialogue, all of which, to bring in an adverb for help, makes the work perfectly boring.

Practice, if done with heart and devotion, opens the practitioner to possibilities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.  Not all pigeons flying overhead in a story have to represent freedom or, were the pigeons to poop while aloft, represent karmic justice, delivered on the heads and shoulders of those who flaunt the laws of decent behavior.  Opportunity.  Practice opens the door for opportunity which, taken, may produce disaster or pure, open flight.

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