Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Great Expectations, Lousy Results

Every time you begin a new piece, you start with great expectations.  Like the emigrants who made their way west after the Great Panic of 1837, you packed a few items into the vehicle as represented by the piece, and started forth, not at all sure of what you'd find at the end, less sure what you'd have to go through in order to get there.

The fuel for the trip was taken on board at about the time the idea for the piece came to you, its conversion rate to actual energy proportionate to the conviction you had that this one--this piece--could be the best ever, the most sapient, humorous, insightful piece yet, the one closest to narrative poetry, the one that would draw readers to your other work, respectful, understanding that they'd come upon you when you were at your peak.

In order to get here, you'd lost the emigrant's equivalent of horses, mules, oxen; you'd tossed furniture, made wrong turns, eaten poorly, drunk too much coffee, to say nothing to the numbers of cigarettes and bowls of pipe tobacco you'd smoked down to ash until about 1978, when you'd quit that particular habit.  In order to get to the other side of the new project, you'd have to go through the prairie and canyons of discovery, outrun such metaphorical Indians and rapacious scallywags as you might meet along the way.

A project that did not have these hidden snipers in position was not a worthwhile project at all.  You had--and have--to fear for your safety, your sanity, and any sense that you have evolved abilities in your possession.  One word you are loathe to use in this context is "talent" because you are unable to define that word or indeed to separate it from the habit of making attempts.  Talent, you believe, is some innate ability to do things correctly.  You believe you have learned how to do some things correctly, most of which you have had to teach yourself.  This is not because there was a lack of excellent teachers or sources available, rather because you were not at the time of exposure certain you understood what the instructions meant.  You had, in effect, to learn from a graveyard of abandoned projects, of things given up upon, of what you thought of as sure things not finding the homes you'd imagined.

You are always buoyed with enthusiasm at the outset.  Only when you are in, moving along, do the wolves begin appearing in the upper paragraphs, sniffing out things to pounce upon, perhaps even calling to one another at the signs of potential targets.  Some of them are often so clangorous that you feel the need to stop right there for edits and rethinking.

The risk of lousy results is always there, hovering like a red-tailed hawk above, scouting out lunch.  You are not quite friends with these marauders; you are no Rousseau, filled with embodiments of noble savages or the Hallmark version of Nature or the Forrest primeval.  These guys can put a serious hurt on you.

Such awareness is a given.  New ideas land on you like California Scrub Jays after peanuts on your patio table.  You brush the less dramatic of them aside with the consequence of having to sit out there, a cold cup of coffee in hand, thinking, waiting.

Such is the way of it, the life and cycle of it.  Wait, watch, pounce or sweep away--then, at length, embark, checking your equipment to see if you are prepared for the trip.  The risk of it is a constant companion.  You see it sometimes, when you are shaving or when you sit before the full-length mirror at your barber.  The risks inherent in your vision of yourself are like the risks that inhere in a new project.

There is no other way for it.  The journeys without risk are not worth the trouble; they are boring.  It takes dissatisfaction to make the journey worthwhile.  Imagine looking in the mirror and thinking from what you see that you can make the journey.  Compare that with looking in the mirror and being so dissatisfied with what you see that you are eager to set off on the journey.

What was once Go West, young man, has now become Go West, old sport.  You once went, but now you go.

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