Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Danger and Risk in Writing

Most of the writers you admire have at one time or an other said something dangerous, either about the times in which they lived, the individuals who held power then, or the organizations known to hold power and exact tribute.

You have had some experiences with this aspect of living dangerously as a writer, neither of them in circumstances as fraught, say, as Salman Rushdie, but enough nevertheless to have made you aware you were outside the boundaries of safety.

The first such episode came when you were a university student, editor of the campus humor magazine, wherein, you took on the subject of a man who was then the Vice-President of the United States, later to become the President of the United States.  To put the matter mildly, you drew the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which did indeed investigate you.

The second episode was some years later, when a novel you wrote was considered to be somewhere between impertinent and pornographic.

Both incidents had you involved with the bureaucracy.  Each fanned your late teen and early twenties cholers, but also your sense of youthful protest against establishment.

There was also an incident of a political in high school, which allowed you to maintain high cholers for at least an hour before moving along to thoughts of a girl named Pauline, with whom you were hopelessly infatuated.  Thus did romantic and sexual longings trump a betrayal from an authority figure.  You were a few years untangling the frustrations and implications of both; you can still recall the frustration of finding yourself powerless in both situations.  You were learning about risk and danger, but not nearly fast enough to suit you.

These and similar incidents were the best you could manage at the time.  They certainly fit in with your general rebellious nature at the time and, like certain more recent events in your life, can be seen as long overdue pigeons, returning home to roost.

Events forge all of us, writers hold no front-row seats.  Events and our responses to them, and the consequences of those responses forge most of us.  Again, you are no exception.  Your time for exceptional behavior came into focus at about age sixteen, when you became convinced by events that you wished to be more or less what you have become.  You need the qualifier "more or less" in there because it was not possible for you to see you entirely as you are now; there were individuals and events along the way.

 There were gestures of protest and, in one of the more spectacular ones, a non-gesture of protest, a waiting out of the action your protest would normally have taken.  Much of your professional career developed from waiting that protest out.  The adjunct danger lay in the possibility that you would not be patient.

Getting some decent writing started is of a piece with building a fire in the wilderness.  So much can impact the start of the fire.  More still can result from fires thoughtlessly placed.  There is danger in the potential for the fire growing until it is beyond control.

Writing ought to have some danger factor, even if the danger is the relatively small one of upsetting someone you don't like.  Writing ought to have consequences.  So many stories you read do not seem to have consequences, at first causing you to think you may have, in your impatience or simple thickness, not seen the implications.  When you first began reading the stories of Anton Chekhov, even though he came well recommended, you could not see the implications.  Impatient, you scurried on to others, but something about him nagged at you, persuaded you to go back for another try.

In the simplest of terms, Chekhov was dangerous for you because he both took you and left you in accustomed places.

When writing seems too safe, it becomes by definition boring.  You've had enough experience with being bored and, in keeping with the tradition, you've even tried your hand--not deliberately--at boring readers, thinking you were observing useful conventions.

You have no wish to write for persons who enjoy safe writing.  There is nothing in it for you, certainly not satisfaction.  Nor is there any joy in your older ways of rebellion for the sake of being rebellious rather than writing for the sake of conviction.

If you write to the point where you will disturb yourself, you will have approached the potential for satisfaction with a particular piece, and with yourself.

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