Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Work Is Not Enough; It Requires Revision

In the beginning was the voice,whether you knew it or not.  Listening wasn't your strength or even proclivity in those days; it may in fact still elude you.  What you did here then  was filtered through the hoopla of youthful urgency and the sensory overload of reading and writing in all-night marathons.  Much of what you listened to was live performance jazz, in places where music of any sort was a temporary attraction, and where the effect was like the chorus of frogs or cicadas, singing to the night as though the night could offer them some comfort.

You also listened to your own, over-exuberant self-assurance, telling you you could be successful at what you wished to be accomplished in, all this without having to in any way suffer for doing so.  All you had to do was practice; the rest would take care of itself for you.

The rest did not take care of itself, not until you began to understand from your friends who were musicians that even those like you who practiced did not find things taking care of themselves, but nevertheless they all had in common the thing you lacked.  Even you, with limited schooling in music, recognized the players by their voices.  You heard a recording and, without being told, could identify the player.  A chum who played a rousing alto saxophone hugged his instrument to his bosom while exclaiming that it was his university, his place where he discovered what he meant.  In a way that was not unkind, he noted how you were in a university where you discovered what others meant.  You needed to learn to listen to yourself, he counseled, listen until you could hear yourself.

Busted.  When you listened, you heard all those writers you admired but you heard nothing of yourself except for that insistent mantra of wanting success.  How could you approximate success without knowing what success meant to you?

Going out in search of your own voice is a bit like the ads you see on Internet sites for online dating services.  Dates are not difficult to come by, chemistry is difficult to come by.  Voice is not difficult to come by, your voice is difficult to contain because of the early potential for it sounding whining or demanding or entitled.  You'd published your million words, oughtn't that count for something?

Not without a voice.

Many of your students already understand the need to wave their arms with ferocity or interrupt or do something to catch your attention in order to get a question or a word or an observation on the table; you are the genie free from the bottle, swooping, flapping like a hummingbird, darting about as though you had been pent up longer than it seems you have been pent up, broadcasting your voice about you with a reckless abandon that can only be brought to earth during the process of revision.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I love these images, and the music references. As someone who learned to listen more than she spoke as a survival strategy, I appreciate the reminder that discovering and using your own voice isn't just good craft- it's the heart and soul of creativity.