Friday, November 5, 2010

Transformation as an iPhone Application

For as long as you can remember back into your reading past, there were frequent times when you browsed the shelves of used and new bookstores alike, searching not merely for some entertainment or touted classic but for the one book that would so alter your perceptions and understanding that your life would have been transformed, as of that reading.  Titles long since forgotten have passed through your brain much as an ice cream cone passed through your intestinal tract, your life interesting, at times dramatic, even entertaining and meaningful to high degree, but not transformed.

All the books on writing fiction had passed their way through you, some even leaving residue, but none of a transformative result.  When you began teaching a fiction course at USC, the then department chair who had pulled you in off the streets had observed, "Surely you'll use E. M. Forester's Aspects of the Novel as your text."  You said surely, then rushed to the massive, well-stocked student store, where you found and fell on the Forester, admiring it, in fact using it, but not transformed by it, either.  Nor were the books you had contracted as an editor nor the things you had written, nor the one notable opportunity you had to reject Lajos Egri's impressive-in-its popularity Art of Dramatic Writing (which a subsequent department chairman, discovering your having refused the opportunity to reprint that work, shook his head at you as though you were not so much his faculty member as a random scale of academic dandruff).

Convinced as you are that there is no one book of such a transformative nature, you nevertheless made lists of books you thought might be so, then undertook to read them, pursuing them as though attempting to secure the marrow from a lamb shank bone.  This led you to the all-or-nothing conclusion that only such a book as you might someday write would have that transformative effect on you, a challenge to produce, damnit, or forget notions of being transformed.  Settle for some level of mediocrity you could not articulate because even that would be judgmental.

Time has had its way with you and you with it, with an impressive amount of frittering in between.  You have written what you consider to be a transformative book which is indeed out in circulation and which has produced a number of explosive results including one now retired publisher from a major house vouchsafing his belief that you have achieved a state of senility previously unrecognized in someone so young as you are and another editor quitting her job and asking to take said transformative work along to her next position.

Being transformed has not done for you what you'd hoped; you still have enormous cowlicks, for instance, a nasty temper, an overly fond regard for Texas barbecue, and the absolute certainty that transformation only works one project at a time, which is to say each new project needs to contain its own qualities of alchemy whereby mere words take on that most precious quality of all, being interesting.  You are adrift in a mystery in which you are loathe to kill of any slight character much less any of the major ones, and you are toying with a fantasy which is, as you consider it, a revenge fantasy in which certain academic types of individuals and the circumstances they provoke are holding sway against your judgment that revenge is in fact trumped at every turn by imagination and fun.

What you appear to have demonstrated is that such transformative books as there are have largely come to you with their batteries on low, needing all your ingenuity to get them into operation.  Transformation is like a dropped iPhone call on ATT; if you redial and say nothing, perhaps the person at the other end will not notice, having come to expect dropped phone calls and dropped transformations.

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