Friday, March 2, 2012

The Things a Writer Puts up with


Archaeology is a reconstruction scenario informed by the examination of remains.  Some of the scenario is inferential—what some future buyer might make of you, having purchased your car after you’d put a hundred thousand miles on it and who knows how many dog biscuit crumbs.

Anthropology is a reconstruction of behavior from on-site observers and a few informants paid in actual currency or status recognition.  Imagine the possibility of your behavior as seen by your neighbors.  I’ll say this for that Lowenkopf fellow; he’s nice to his dog.  But he sure listens to some crazy music.

Sociology is a scientific measurement of active, interactive, confrontational, and adaptive behavior patterns (among others) between individuals.  There are several types of measurements used to produce data from which reliable inferences may be made.  Imagine, if you will, an individual constructing a computer model of your habits and other social behavior, based on your spending, voting, and entertainment habits.

Psychology is an attempt at understanding the workings of the human mind, the psyche, if you will, measuring attitudes, behavior, and the processes of ideation and creativity.  An individual’s essential modes of behavior could be defined based on a log of her dreams or fantasies or her preferences in friends.  A psychologist could use the manner in which you recognize and cope with spilled coffee on yourself and/or surrounding furniture as an armature about which to wrap a considerable and nuanced profile of you.  The profile would be sixty or seventy percent accurate in its predictions of your future behavior.

A writer does all these things, often simultaneously, with no intent of following the overly simplistic “ology” dicta you ascribe to the various disciplines.  In fact, following these disciplinary dicta too closely will bring the writer to the eventual awareness of having not particularized, individualized, and dug deeply enough into the characters he sets forth on the page with the expectation of readers investing in them.

Although you have described a writer as a person who shape-shifts from one or more scientific approaches to portraying the human experience, the vision you present here of a writer is as one-or two-dimensional as the descriptions of the individual parts.  It is a beginning.  Giving a writer a name is an enhancement.  Shelly is a writer.  We know more than before; Shelly has been yanked from the shadows he has sought in recent years, having reached the self-awareness he is somewhat of what could be called a ham actor, given to fustian and flourish where only eye contact or a nod are necessary.  

He has begun to understand this, although even now, he wonders what it takes for him to grasp the less-is-more approach to the point where he can apply it sooner, saving himself the efforts of unnecessary drafts.

Shelly knows a bit about archaeology because an editorial client is a world-class archaeologist, some of which, you would think, would have rubbed off after arguing and discussing through at least fifteen books.

He also knows a bit here and there about anthropology, certainly enough to know he wishes he’d minored in it or perhaps even majored in it as an undergraduate, thanks again to his sister, who pursued post-graduate studies in it.  Thanks also to having two students who were faculty at the university where he taught, giving him the opportunity to discuss with them the dynamics of setting their conceptual material to dramatic focus.  Not to mention his discovery that a former dean, also auditing his class, was a world-class anthropologist.

He knows about sociology because a coffee buddy is a sociologist, because also when he was involved in scholarly publishing, he not only had the opportunity to work with sociologists on manuscripts, he was able to employ them as referees for projects written by anthropologists of whom he had suspicions.  Asking a sociologist to review a book written by an anthropologist is of a piece with asking a dog to write a letter recommending a cat into a Ph.D. program.

He knows something about psychologists because some good friends are quite accomplished at what they do, each in his unique way, and because he almost had as a mother-in-law a person who said, “I know about psychology and he—“ meaning you—“is not a normal person.”  Time has, by the way, borne out her diagnosis.  She was almost wrong.  Although much of your behavior subsequent to her judgment of you was not consciously focused on her, you nevertheless tried unsuccessfully for some time to become a commercial writer as opposed to a writer such as, say, John Banville, who became commercial because what he writes is resonant with importance as opposed to a writer who figured a way to take the pulse of the public.

You believe you could argue the point that dedicated archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists are not normal persons, either.  Rather, they are remarkable and quirky, with such descriptors as scientific and academic coming well down the line.  Your new dean, who is a biologist, is far from a normal person, which is the major reason you have for wishing to work for him.

Normal persons are easy to spot.  You did not always have this ability.  One dear old chum, who is gay, spoke of how she acquired what she calls a “gaydar” which allows her to spot brother and sister gays.  She is also a splendid writer and on that level you have discussed the relative place of normal individuals in fiction.  It pleases you to be in agreement with her on this point.

You cherish the not normal about yourself; without it, you would be a helpless introvert, whereas now, you are a bombastic one, a ham actor, trying to keep the sweeping gestures down to controllable swoop.

There are some sweaters and shirts on which you invariably acquire some manner of stain within the first hour of wearing.  After serious thought, you considered darker hued sweaters and shirts, but the color had little to do with the ultimate result.  Another friend revealed the secret:  “You can’t hide your nature behind dark colors.”

A writer cannot hide his nature behind dark paragraphs, either.


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