Monday, April 9, 2012

ALL in a DAY's work

Much as you are fond of trying to launch into a first draft of anything with as little thought as possible, earlier concerns about using cliché and being derivative have left their mark on your starting-out process.  You spend some moments essaying the place to jump in, then you begin to examine the project for the tell tale traces.

You know perfectly well what traces; cliché traces.

Such traces as, “All in a day’s work,” because that, in fact, is the rudder if not the pole star of this piece.  What, in fact, is the ALL in “All in a day’s work?”  If the day’s work relates to teaching, the ALL can be the number of classes on a particular day, or the number of classes on another particular day for which you need to prepare lecture/discussion-oriented notes.  Further, ALL can mean student assignments to be read and commented upon.

If the DAY involves editing, the ALL can refer to a given number of pages to be read, then commented upon, or the number of pages to be line edited, were that part of the chore.

But if the ALL were related to a writing DAY, quantitative bets, once a major source of pride and concern to you, are, well, since you’ve come this far, quantitative bets such as number of pages or words are OFF.  The ALL could be settling on the name for a character.  You would consider such a DAY’s work a good DAY.  Anything, no, make that ANYTHING worth keeping is a good workday.

You recall a conversation with Elmore Leonard about the matter of getting a character’s name right.  In one of his Westerns, he had a jailer whose name seemed to elude him, causing mischief with the story.  The character did not want to step out of the shadows. One day, while reading through some early 1900’s newspapers from the Arizona Territory, where the story in question was set, Leonard came upon the name of a lawman, Bob Isham.  He gave his jailer the name of Isham.  “After that,” Leonard told you, “I couldn’t get the character to shut up.  The name gave the character the stature and reality he required.

For you, any number of times, a GOOD DAY’s WORK has been the mere act of finding that one element.  Such details enhance the possibility of drafting away, sketching away without thinking, allowing that sure process of your own vision of the circumstances to interact with the vision you have breathed into your characters.  Thus the time spent writing may indeed involve getting yourself into the story and out of yourself.

At one stage in your life, you were of a mindset where your approach was to divide the week into segments, where days would be given over to preparation for teaching and the actual teaching itself, a day or two reserved for editing chores, and the balance hoarded for writing.  Problem was, the teaching and editing always took longer than you’d anticipated, which was easy enough to understand because when you gave writing the top priority, it took longer than you anticipated, not only because of the length of time you needed to discover the characters’ names, but because once you started, the focus was too difficult to turnoff, resulting in miffed students and clients.

The DAY’s WORK has morphed—transmogrified sounds better—into the writing coming first to the point where some must be done every day. No fair thinking sentences and paragraphs; they are too easy to slip away.  Sentences must be written either for your hard drive or a note pad.  ALL in a DAY’s WORK may mean writing, editing, and teaching-related activities.  ALL in a DAY’s work, if it does mean all three, also means a particular clutter on and about the desk.

Lupe comes to clean and tidy on Monday’s.  Given the relative size of the studio, you often repair to Café Luna or the nearby Renaud’s Patisserie for breakfast and enough coffee to insure you will propel with ease into the rest of the day.

When you come home at about noon, trying to think in terms of a simple lunch rather than some elaborate pasta with broccolini or rappini, or even anchovy and olive, 409 E. Sola is as tidy and fresh as it will be for the balance of the week.  Seeing this tidiness, inhaling its freshness, luxuriating in the smells of pine and flowers, you are disabused of anything beyond simple fare:  fruity olive oil, a splash of thick balsamic vinegar, some cibiatta and ricotta or Romano. Perhaps a sardine or two.  A fresh orange.

 Things are arranged according to logic and Lupe’s appreciated sense of order as opposed to your sense of whim.  The Jane Austen goes on the floor adjacent the wastebasket because the other items related to your lecture on Jane Austen are near by, and don’t bother asking why these things can’t go on the desk; the desk is already crowded with notepads, reading glasses, and fountain pens.  You suppose you could take the fluffy sprig of purple stattis and its vase from the desk, but that would not leave a large enough footprint to matter.

Whatever the ALL, thus lunched, perhaps indulging yourself another coffee, you are back at the DAY’s work, whatever it is.  Whatever indeed it is, soon it will begin its inexorable spread outward, drawing you along in its wake.  

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