Sunday, June 17, 2012

Elephants Redux


Unless you carry about a collection of jazz discs in your car or connect your iPod touch to the radio system on your car, jazz input is limited, the one or two available sources reliant on scheduling hours. Not a serious problem, not when KUSC, one of the major classical outlets, is available throughout the central coast area.

The frustration is not being able to hear what you want, when you want it, which is a good analogy for the music you hear in your mind’s ear, classical or jazz, which you have absolutely no ability to reproduce, neither in writing or performance on anything more sophisticated than a kazoo.

The frustrations (plural because there are many) inherent in transforming an idea from concept into story, from skittering, so-what story to meaningful story, have haunted you like the ghost of his father haunting Hamlet, more or less since you were of that Hamlet’s age. 

Within the intervening years from you achieving Hamlet’s age, then moving well beyond it, you have contributed your share of wadded discards of attempts, on occasion achieving an intellectualized vision of what might help, at other times understanding the need to convey the necessary feelings, at yet other times a combination of both.

Your placement in the evolving scale of technology, from typewriter to electric typewriter to early generation computer, to now allows you a vision between the piles of crumpled pages and the code names you give files to remind you when they were written and, thus, what evolution in the process they might have made.

Among the elephants in the living room are the frustrations of getting your own ideas captured so that they may be studied, fed, enhanced, brought to some degree of satisfactory conclusion.

This elephant, which you will call the personal writing elephant, is joined by the teaching elephant; you are seen by some as one who knows which firefly to snatch from the sky, where to put it, and how to feed it while it is in captivity.  There comes a time when the student becomes aware that what you can do is not an alchemy which can be learned once for all time.  After you experience this realization from the student, you are faced with their added disillusion when they discover that each new project requires a new alchemy, one that works for that project alone.

A colleague confided in you this past week that he believes you have forgotten more than he knows.  You responded to the effect that you are never sure you have forgotten enough.  His reaction to that convinced you there is a splendid basis for continuing friendship.

Another elephant you sometimes forget, then stumble over on your way out of the living room is the editorial elephant, coming into play often when a fresh and viable approach to the project at hand seems to have come from nowhere, but is in reality quite experience based.  The problem with the work is not the work itself but where the work begins and sometimes where the work ends.  The sigh you hear from the one who has been edited precedes the author’s sense of being tired of the project, not wanting to do another draft.  You understand that as a kind of defensiveness; it is the equivalent of driving on the freeway and experiencing someone make a sudden lane shift directly in front of you; it is your space, your vision, being trespassed, threatened, invaded.

Music to the editor’s ears:  “I don’t have it in me to do another draft.”

You are, of course, being ironic.  You appreciate actors such as the late Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, Glenn Close, and Meryl Streep, who think nothing of doing another take and another and another, in complete disavowal of perfection.  As there is no failure, only dreadful grasp of the idea (which may not have been all that good), there is no perfection, only the opportunity to bring something fresh to a story.

Writing in this sense has nothing to do with success or failure, only an opportunity to capture a falling star or a shard of lightning.  Such coins as there are in your pocket come from your awareness of this and your ability to share it.

This philosophy would work a good deal better if the only elephant in the living room were your own writing and your own relationship to it.  Those two bumps over there.  Teaching.  Editing.  They figure in the calculus as well to the point where, the longer you can go without being overcome by one or more of the frustrations associated with teaching and editing, the greater the likelihood you will also go a tad longer without the frustrations getting to be elephants within your own work.  Then the next draft will be from curiosity and enthusiasm rather than defensive dreariness.

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