Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Automatic Pilot, The

The day is filled with clients and potential clients, buzzing about like flies at a picnic, wanting the authorial equivalent of what flies at picnics want.  The first client was sent to you by your literary agent, who wanted your take on a work that has great humorous and satiric potential.  When you tell your agent it would be a mistake to send this work out in its current condition, you become the recipient of a string of Italian profanity you had never before considered.

A potential client comes across your radar screen thanks to a remarkable book publicist with whom you have had ongoing banter for nearly forty years.  He once asked you, during a Christmas party at his house, if you would go across the street to his neighbor, who was expecting you and would give you a cup of sugar.  Not suspecting a set-up, you took the offered cup and strode across the street, rang the doorbell, and were greeted by Doris Day.  This time he has sent you one of the most dreadful examples possible of a self-published book, wondering what suggestions you could give the author for his next book.

Another client is impatient for you to finish your edits of his novel, the editor of your weekly book review sends you an email inquiring whether you'd already sent your copy, a polite way of reminding you that you had not.

Your one o'clock class is excited about the potentials they have found in the first hundred pages of Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn,which you expand and expound upon, a hero's journey undertaken by a hero with Tourette's Syndrome.

You must put some evening hours into devising a syllabus for this weekend's intensive session, "How and Why to Read Like a Writer."

As you sit at your desk, sated by a lackluster teriyaki turkey burger and a splendid accompany salad of homegrown vegetables, Sally begins a bark you more often associate with her warning off the raccoons or coyotes on Hot Springs Road.  Since there are neither raccoons nor coyotes in this part of town, you manage to piece together the fact that Sally wants attention, at least a tummy rub.

Finally sated, she storms over to her bed, where with doyenne's sigh, she plops down for her night's rest.  This reminds you of the same attractive potential for you, whereupon you prepare yourself until, somewhere between brushing your teeth and wondering who that zombie in the mirror is, you realize you have not done this part of the day's routine, addressing some sentiment or notion or other in writing.  You also recognize the sense of relief that you remembered to do this, while suffering the pang of having no slightest clue what your subject matter should be.

Put it on automatic pilot, your automatic pilot tells you.  After all,the devotee of the writing life trusts the mechanism of the automatic pilot.  You argue back:  the writing life that relies on the automatic pilot is an unexamined writing life.

All right then, the automatic pilot says, eager for bed.  Fucking improvise.

The trouble with that is adrenaline.

More often than not, improvisation, even when it produces eventual failure or disastrous results, also produces that heady sense of working the high trapeze without a safety net.

You gonna let a little sleep stand in the way of improv, the automatic pilot says.

No, you say.  No.  Too late in the game for that.

Bring on the examination.

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