Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Shaving Ghosts and Writing Ghosts


Sometime early this morning, you came across a ghost in your small, phone booth-like bathroom, well enough designed to accommodate a comfortable shower and a relatively generous amount of shelf space, but not large enough to accommodate you and a ghost.

The ghostly apparition was a good likeness for your paternal grandfather, Max; whom you’ve noticed in recent years, watching you from the same perspective of this morning, your bathroom mirror.

You had a comfortable relationship with him during your time together.  Even when he opted for dementia in his final years, it was a benign, agreeable dementia, where he frequently spoke of wanting to go to a particular city in Europe or a particular street, York Boulevard, in the north central portion of the Los Angeles basin, a street whose fascination for him was impossible to determine.

You have also seen apparitions of your father, always a pleasing occasion.  Although not the most communicative of individuals on a conversational basis, he projected through his presence a sense of being glad he was with whomever he was with.  He was also given to outrageous one-liners and behavior that often seemed to sum up a situation with a flourish.  Whenever you saw him in the mirror, you were transformed from the mere happiness of your default to an extended and jaunty impudence.

You have also seen traces of your mother and your paternal grandmother in ghostly apparition.  As well, you’ve caught the occasional glimpse of the you with the high pompadour of your teens and the subsequent buzz cut of your twenties.

Your paternal grandfather was gone well before your appearance.  You’ve seen enough photos of him and heard enough stories to think that should his ghost appear at any time during your shaving or tooth brushing activities, you’d wink a welcome at him.

Missing then from the ghostly parade is Becky, your remarkable maternal grandmother who, though deaf, unable to read any but the barest of English, was well read in Tolstoy and Pushkin and Turgenev.  She found her way by bus through the sprawl of Los Angeles to the point where you were wont to joke that the only English she could read were the words “Kosher” in the window of butcher shops, and “Fairfax” on the menu of busses.

All this leads you to wonder about the ghosts you sometimes see peering back at you from the paragraphs you produce.  You have your favorites now, some of them holdovers from your favorites when you began.  Of course Mark Twain has remained with you as a constant.  Traces of Hemingway appear and you wish they would, even though on some levels you appreciate the contributions his preoccupations with the language and the craft of writing have contributed to the writer’s tool kit.  Sometimes you will see wisps of Fitzgerald, which make you smile, and the appearance of Faulkner’s labyrinthine constructions, which you find yourself enjoying nevertheless make you super aware of the need to wander back, strewing periods amid the clauses and phrases.

You see Elmore Leonard strutting forth and, once in a while, a paragraph right out of Louise Erdrich.

Times when you think you have forgotten about John O’Hara, there is some flash of him, hopeless in his Pennsylvania-ness as he yearns for Princeton and Yale.

Sometimes, when you have got a good squirt of mischief to come off without causing you an additional squeeze of impatience with yourself, you see a flash of Lorrie Moore, and you congratulate yourself for having grown.

Which brings you to the vision of yourself least haunted by the ghosts of men and women whose essence you set about to absorb.  This vision is fraught with possibility and temptation.  After all, you have been impressed in a positive way by a number of men and women; as well you have learned much of what not to do from a good number more.

Where, then, do you believe you stand most like you, most like the attitudes you send off that sometimes shock with their bluntness or seeming lack of tact? Where is the default, ghost-less you on the page?
Dialogue.  Sometimes interior monologue, but more often you are most you when your characters exchange information.  You catch the tang of impatience in your dialogue much the same way you inhale the briny awareness of iodine in the atmosphere hovering about the ocean.  There was no such sense all the while you were forced to settle for the Atlantic, but there was immediate iodine when you were back at the Pacific.

Of course they are laughing at you because you cannot see them, but you will watch with care lest they want to take over your story in ways you could not imagine to do.


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