Sunday, June 26, 2011

Check your censors at the door

 In former times, running on empty was a potential trauma waiting to turn into a full disaster, complete with self doubt and a lecture from the censor.  You have been weighed in the balance, the censor tells you, and have been found wanting.  You have been caught out with neither story nor opinion.  Added implication: how can you consider yourself what you'd like to consider yourself?

Some time ago, perhaps two or three years back, you began to realize that of the many writers you admired who were able to turn their running on empty into a piece of some sort, perhaps even a short story, was William Saroyan, a man you met in person only once, with disastrous results.  You were second banana to him at a writers' conference, a fact that seemed safe enough for you to provide a home for several glasses of wine more than prudent.  You did not have any way of knowing Saroyan was an aggressive drinker, growing more truculent with each infusion.

You soon found out when it became clear that he had not only taken more than a pit stop from an arranged dinner at the El Paseo Restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara, he had also clambered out the bathroom window, found the Elk's Club bar some blocks away, and was tossing back doubles while wishing any number of individuals he knew would go become fruitful and multiply themselves.

You were neither drunk nor truculent, but you were by no means sober when informed that you had just become the keynote speaker.  After several quick cups of coffee, you were out on the stage,in front of an enormous lectern, possessed of the notion that it would be good to advance to the edge of the stage and sit down, whereupon you might continue with your speech.

Saroyan had always left an impression on you with his work, which seemed so spontaneous.  You never get a chance to ask him, although you on several occasions were able to discuss the matter with his son, Aram.  It was and still is your belief that William Saroyan could actually get a publishable piece out of being on empty, then writing about it.  Given such problems as his lousy ability to be any kind of husband and the matter of his drinking problems and temper problems, running on empty was well down on his priority list.  He might have even preferred it to, say, needing another drink or perhaps needing the money to buy another drink.

No idea?  No problem; just sit down and write about the glorious freedom of having nothing to write about, how it freed up the soul with a sense of grand potential.

You believe you can more or less do the same thing, although you do not think to attempt to publish such material or even think about publishing it; instead you try to file it in some accessible manner for use should you ever be at a similar loss.

There is a kind of tingling presence of adventure after a time, the sense that you might be onto something in the way of insight.  Not every piece of writing produces insight; sometimes pieces produce trouble of the sort associated with expressing what you think, when you have thought something unflattering or critical about someone it would have been healthier to have not expressed your opinions.

But there you are again; an opinion is something, plucked straight from your heart.  An opinion, by its very nature, is running on something, not on empty.

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