Friday, March 25, 2011

Cleaning up

As you pursue your course through the revision of your latest work, you are alert to some of your many, unconscious, habit words, tropes you find crawling through your prose like termites in a seldom-used basement.  From this list of habit words, you attempt to root out unaccustomed squatters, words such as "accordingly," which, even though an -ly adverb, you seem to favor as a means of beginning a new sentence.  Ditto for "thus" which pretty much goes without saying because you are making a point or conclusion which should be obvious in the first place.

One of the surprises to find its way in was "stratagem," a word you did not think you cared for all that much, but there it is, or was.  Stratagem made you think of the times you'd come to composing your notes here with nothing particular in mind (that was another word, "particular.") and the need for something on which to take off for at least enough words to equal in length a newspaper column.  On one such venture, as the day drew closer to being tomorrow, leaving you with the awareness of having written nothing for yourself that day, you began by running off a well-reasoned attack on the need to write something for yourself, picking up momentum with each sentence until it was a veritable steam engine of a screed.  Oozing from the interstices was a defensiveness you have come to dislike more than -ly adverbs or, for that matter, screeds.  The more you realized what was at hand, the more amused you became until you reached the point where you were able to delete the entirety of the screed document, then move on to some notes about defensiveness that were worth thinking about, even worth further thought.

Absent a specific goal, you find irritation and anger worthwhile subjects to pursue because the act of doing so will more than be enough to bring you to a specific upon which you may stand forth to take your solo improvisation.   This is more helpful than you might realize because a portion of your self-image is now as a man who has taken irritation and anger from his list of habit emotions, a thing you did not realize you had, not in so many words, until this very late afternoon, when you grew irritated and angry at the number of habit words you'd used.

Revision is supposed to make you aware of such things; it is also supposed to make you feel better at the opportunity for expressing in better form something you'd thought you'd presented in good enough form right from the egg.  Things, in your view, are not always what they appear; they may be better or worse.  Revision is a kind of absolution from the spirited chaos of early creation, it is an opportunity to move away from old habits and clutter.

To a point, there is truth in the observation that having said or ventured nothing, there is no clutter to clean up, but you can see several problems with that, including the considerable one of having to suffer the irritation and potential anger of having ventured nothing, having made no sign at all of alertness to your surroundings.  Only today, when someone at a coffee shop asked you how you were doing, you replied that you were cleaning up some untidy prose.  Your questioner heard only the cleaning up in your response; she wished you well in your prosperity, not at all intending sarcasm or irony.  Yet it is true, you are in a real sense in the cleaning up business, wherein you wish yourself every success.  And a sturdy broom.

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