Saturday, October 29, 2011

Work in Progress

As the nameless narrator of Rebecca dreamed of returning to Manderly, you have had dreams in which you return, not to a burned-out estate on the Cornish Coast but to another, much less foreboding place.  Truth to tell, the place is not foreboding at all; in its way, it is welcoming, wanting much of me, wanting focus and a sense of devotion.

The place is also a condition; it is the halfway mark in a project.  Unless the project is a book review and the time somewhere between late Thursday and noon on Friday, the temporal aspects are of less moment.  Your column is due by noon on a Friday.  Halfway mark on such a project means the end is reachable if not in sight.  With all other projects, the halfway mark is in its own, existential way, the hallmark.

Being in the middle of a project is much of a piece with having been attracted, fallen in love, then embarked on the remarkable trail of discovery.  In most cases, there is no way you could possibly finish in one working day.  You are in so many ways as adrift as an ancient seafarer, moved beyond the sight of land.  You have none of the sophisticated modern devices of navigation, only your own sense of direction, the ability to identify some stars, some ability to relate your position to the momentary location of the sun in its transit of the sky.

As much as this is a scary place, it is a comforting if not comfortable place, comforting because of your familiarity with the feel of this place, the sense of taking assurance from the lack of familiarity.  You are out on the sea of your own imagination, with no guarantee of any kind of catch to sell when you return home, hopeful of packing your catch off to market.

There are those about you who wish with ardent sincerity to write but not to be in this particular place; they wish to have written but not to see the endless hours of darkness before the sunrise, the sense of having to retrace steps, perhaps all the way back to the outset.

After you’ve done the work, you are eager to experience the response of someone who has been exposed to it.  Does she or he resonate to it or project cold, implacable resistance, arms folded across chest in that classic gesture protecting the self from close hand intrusion?  This heady blend of impatience and curiosity seek to override your hope that you will see things to put in and take out for the overall benefit of the project.

In some instances, your patience delivers itself on the shores of a discovery of epic proportions; you find something you’d have been embarrassed to have left in or, in the converse, you’d find something you’d taken so much for granted that you’d forgotten to put it in, leading you to the defensive “What do you mean?” defense asked by the arrogant.

Once, many years ago, you were asked to write a book review that would be used to judge your potential fit as a staff member of the high school newspaper.  You were big on such things as theme and subtext during those days, a tad more anxious than eager to demonstrate your visions of reality.  You set off on the review with the equivalent of popping a wheelie, verbs and intensifiers shooting from your prose, your imagination unable to take in anything more wonderful than a position on the newspaper staff and the resulting approval to enroll in the journalism class.

Days later, when the paper was returned, you experienced the pang of embarrassment from the teacher’s note atop the page.  Would have helped, the teacher noted, to include the name of the book under review.  To date, this had been your most serious gaffe; in its wake you do argue yourself into one more run-through, one more editorial pass, one last vision.

There is comfort along with self-impatience with this approach, but not the self-impatience of the one who wishes to have the writing over with so that one may bask in the glories of having written.  Such glories are misguided at best.  Having written is in its way like post-coital tristesse; you have at best a few moments, perhaps a slight doze, before the need is back, urging you into the awareness from which all process begins.

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