Thursday, October 13, 2011

Self-Help

 At first, there seemed no thought to the process going on within you.  The equivalent of auto-pilot drove you to learn the language going on all about you, sopping up the names of things as a way of keeping track of them and, eventually, of being able to talk about them.  From this remove, you venture that such learning of the language was notably selfish; if you knew what a thing was, you could ask for it.

You have vivid memories of a condition where you were three or four, triangulated with great specificity to where you lived at the time.  There was a large blue mailbox in front of what was then Miller’s Drug store, southwest corner of Sixth Street and Fairfax Avenue, mid-to-western Los Angeles.  You had a relationship with the mail box in that your mother often allowed you the pleasure of inserting letters into it, from which you realized that the language could be written; you could in effect write a letter to someone, mail it, and be certain the letter would be delivered.  Even though you did not yet know how to write, you filled a page with scribbles at which you worked with energetic flourish before folding it to what appeared letter size, then taking it to the mailbox.

Although you did not know the exact address of your intended recipient, you had faith in that blue mailbox.  It would know where your mother’s cousin, Jean Friedman, lived.  Somewhere in The Bronx, of course, but the mailbox would know.

After a period you consider a cultural haze, from which you emerged able to read and to write, you were embarked on a lifetime of reading, shunted into fiction by the accident of your school books—textbooks—being so insufferably tedious and boring.  A major step was being told by your principal that you were trusted to take whatever book you wished from her office.  The only price you had to pay was the principal’s assistant, a Miss Forthman, taking upon herself the task of securing your unruly hair with a bobby pin.  Your pals, Jack, and Peter, and Stephen teased you.  “You were in Miss Angelo’s office again.”

You referred to this period as a cultural haze because you pretty well maintained your pose of not thinking about what was happening to you in your education, you more or less assigned the same level of focus to the information given you and the skills you were asked to demonstrate.  You did not begin to question or assign preferential rankings to things until you’d squirmed and wriggled through three more grammar schools—P.S. # 10, in a small town in New Jersey, John Howland Grammar School in Providence, Rhode Island, and Central Beach Elementary School in Miami Beach, thence to what you still consider the most miserable school appearance of your career, junior high school, variously endured in Miami Beach and Los Angeles.

You were nearly radicalized by the time you reached high school, but your experiences there certainly put you over the top, all of which is relevant to the emerging theme here that the effects of your reading and writing had undergone a rhythmic and tidal pattern in which you alternated between reading for yourself followed by trying to put the most agreeable spin on what you wrote, all the while reading things of incendiary impact.

By the time of your arrival in high school, you focused without hesitation on what you hoped were techniques that led to publication beyond your high school paper and one or two community newspapers such as The Pico Post, and the Hollywood Citizen-News.

At the same time, a good deal of your reading was selected with the notion that familiarity with it would automatically enhance your extended opportunities for publication.  To be blunt about your approach, you were reading and writing in the quixotic belief that you would encounter the one book and write the one piece that would create an explosive epiphany of such magnitude that you would be a professional writer.  As various men of the clergy held forth various wafers with the proclamation, “Behold, the body of Christ,” you expected in some phantasmagoria of transubstantiat-ion to become what you hoped to become.

Yeah, well.

By most of your accounts, you put in close to twenty-five years studying what you thought was the craft of writing for others, publishing things here and there, simultaneously reading things you hoped would give you more of the edge of self, your cynicism given the equivalent of steroids when one or two things you’d written for television brought you a modicum of income for a time.  They’d been deliberately written against your own grain, leaving you with unresolved conflicts to resolve.

Which you did.

Over the years, the tide has come in and gone out, waxed and waned, ebbed and flowed.

Of course you wish to be read, understood, subjected to the convivial dialectic of different cultures and agendas.

To accomplish this, you are back as you were when you were an unthinking kid, scarcely formed, As you read for yourself and do your damndest to interpret Reality for yourself, you attempt to bear the full weight of it yourself.  Tomorrow’s essay is likely to be about interpreters and interpretations.  You write for yourself; you write to decode the mysteries of your selves, to interpret your intentions for yourself, refine and polish your definitions so that the next time the tide comes in, you will not be caught asleep.


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