Friday, April 20, 2012


The first draft of a story of any length is like a first date gone well.  You know you want to see it again; there are already gestures and glances you want repeated, questions you want to have answered, shared interests you wish to revisit, disparate visions that now seem interesting for the first time.

Perhaps you said something that caused her eyes to mist and she reciprocates with something you can begin to feel moving under the short ribs or climbing along the tear ducts.

You could never presume to estimate how many revisions either would require of you.  Back then, ages ago, in the days of the shiny red Olivetti portable typewriter, when you were on a schedule of a novel a month and you allowed yourself the conceit that you might rework the occasional scene here and there, you were nevertheless surprised when you saw the growing layers of wadded-up sheets of manuscript paper.  You’d sneaked back for another run-through of a scene, your “reason” being because you liked it.

Unless there was some prearranged agreement to keep preparations casual, you thought with care about when you would shave, what you would wear.  Even so, your anticipation was for the first rush of seeing her at evening’s start.  The anticipation expanded to thoughts of what would be said, how it would be said, where it would be said.

Starting work in the morning was at the same level. You brought your coffee and toast to the desk because of your eagerness to see the last scene from yesterday, wondering did the dialogue hold up?  Was there some crackle of interest in the narrative; did the sentences swoop and barrel roll before you like stunting airplanes?

When you were well along in your interest with someone, there was the excitement of an unanticipated meeting somewhere, the market, the laundry, a coffee shop.  Once, while driving along Olympic Boulevard, westward toward Santa Monica, you were stopped at a traffic signal, where you noticed in the next lane, her window down, waving at you, pointing to a diner-type coffee shop.  Lover’s luck, you called it.  Once when you were in a producer’s office, waiting to discuss changes he wanted on a project that you hadn’t cared about all that much in the first place and was being changed once again in a maneuver you’d come to think of as the producer’s girlfriend’s dog, you found among your script material the pages from a short story you’d all but forgotten and you were transformed into several moments of the person you’d hoped to become.  The producer was not at all pleased with you or your attitude that day.

Not all producers are as removed from the understanding of what transformative experiences might mean to a writer.  This one was because, as you realized in subsequent weeks, this was the level you had attained.  You did not think sunk; you thought attained.

This particular project, although it paid you well enough in relative terms, was like a date you had high hopes for at the outset but which had turned sour around the halfway point, meaning you were faced with the prospect of being home by ten or ten thirty or stopping somewhere to listen to some music and, finding no one you cared enough to listen to, stopping off at the bar in the bowling alley, where the pounding sound of bowling balls, being lofted onto the alley and the squawk-like chatter of the pins being hit seemed to offer you kinetic relief.

Dates and stories.  Conversation, companionship, magic, some kind of chemistry, some trace of potential, but work is needed.  You have no idea how much work.  How many dates?  How many drafts?  What revisions, apologies, switches in point of view will be necessary for the step forward to the next level?

You can see it anywhere, a coffee shop, the bar at the Olio e Limone Pizzeria, the outside tables at Via Maestra, the “it” you see being a sudden reach and clasp of hands, a bump of hips, two persons sharing a pannecotta or a tiramisu, a particular jut of chin or toss of head, a single peal of laughter at the same frequency as the ring of a wine glass.

You can also see ”it” in a magazine or journal or book, perhaps even your own computer screen or a page of handwritten draft of your own work.

Whichever “it,” it is, it is intimacy.

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