Wednesday, May 11, 2011

First-Draft Life

You would be hard pressed to recount with any hope of accuracy the number of times an individual within your hearing had uttered the fabled words of regret and of self-exculpation, "If I had only known."  No telling, as well, how many times those words came soaring from your own mouth, filled with the need for some form of absolution for the particular error or otherwise wrong move you executed.  Or not.  Because this moan and wail also relates to not doing things that, in retrospect, would have been better done than not.

Fact is, even as advanced along the index of control freak command of the situation--any situation--as you are, it is better for you not to have known then--whenever then was--what you know now.

For one thing, we are still not completely unwired from the thralldom of our beginnings as gleaners, hunters and gatherers; we glean information--or should--from every transaction, filing it away into the cabinets and hard drives and recesses of--well, of us and who we are.

In a lovely kind of biologic justice, we are wired to forget anniversaries, our manners, and sometimes even our morals.  We start out with some, but not enough knowledge, causing our parents consternation if they love us or a kind of morbid fascination, waiting to see what will happen next, if they don't love us.  We do not always have a woolly mammoth or deer in sight; sometimes our spears and arrows miss and we starve.

If we knew everything with the certainty that water, if heated to 212 Fahrenheit degrees at sea level would boil, we'd likely become smug, more conservative and Puritanical than we already are, boring and, of course, bored.  Bored silly.  Smug as we are now, we would become even more smug because we know, and have a strong set of statistical credentials to ratify our knowledge.

What would be the point of reading a story if we already knew how it would end?  What would be the point of writing the story in the first place because the lesson of it would already have been learned, the discovery inherent in it would have been discovered.

And as long as we're in a writing mode, we would already know what the final draft would be like at the outset, obviating the need for revision and editing.

But the sad and wonderful truth remains:  If there is indeed a god, she is a writer, urging us all, as you have so often urged beginning writing students, to get it all down first, before considering revisions.  No matter how much we attempt to reverse the trend, life is lived first draft.  We can go home again to do what we now know better to do, but home isn't there the way it once was.  We can clone Rover or Rex or Fido, and they will break our hearts for looking exactly the way the original Rover or Rex or Fido looked, but they will be busy living their own first draft lives.

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