Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mentors


Several years ago, your mentor commended a novel written by a chum of hers, Robert Paul Smith.  The novel, Where Did You Go?  “Out.”  What Did You Do?  “Nothing,” reminded her in tone and range, of you.  For the better part of a year, the novel haunted you to the point where it did precisely what a successful novel should do.  You lived it, returned to it the way you return to a favored restaurant, even to some degree caused you to bring in characters such as the ones Smith had in his narrative.

After a year or so, your original copy of the novel became lost in the shifting sands of books, magazines, and journals that crossed your desk, lined your shelves, and became part of the clutter about the large, overstuffed club chair your father gave you.

Recent thoughts of the Smith novel caused you a frantic search for it; surely it would have made the journey when you moved here to Sola Street from the semi-rural outliers of Hot Springs Road.  As your search revealed, the Smith novel did not make the trip, causing you once again to resort to Amazon and a promised delivery of the first week in January, where you will see what you will see in an experiment similar to the one you made earlier this year, when you ordered from the same source the first how-to book on fiction writing you’d ever read or owned.

Smith had also written another novel that caught you in its grip, So It Doesn’t Whistle.  It, too, is on its way.  Spending some time with them will be the literary equivalent of finding a doorway where one or both your parents marked your height with a pencil mark and a year.

Although this was not done, in some measure because your growing years were also moving years, you find yourself thinking about the potential trauma you’d missed, given one of your early nicknames was “Shorty,” and given the sudden eruption in your first year of high school, where you became six feet, then experienced two more growing spurts wherein you gained yet another three inches.

The relationship to the Smith books, particularly the Where Did You Go?  “Out.”  What Did You Do?  “Nothing.” Came about because the act of sitting to compose—compose almost anything (including a shopping list)—brings that question and response to mind.  There is a point where you become “out,” at least in a terrain you’d neither anticipated or even recognized, wondering how you got there, trying to retrace steps and strands of association such as the one that brought the Smith titles to mind.

So far as the Smith novels are concerned, you are doing “nothing” until they arrive and you begin thumbing through the opening chapters, looking for some moment of friction where inertia is overcome and you are caught, just as you were caught last night until at least two this morning because you’d happened on an application on your iPhone whose name meant nothing to you, and which led you to the downloaded text of Huckleberry Finn, by the writer who was dead long before you were born but who nevertheless spoke to you in much the same manner Rachel spoke to you when she was still alive.  (She would not have been pleased, you think, with some of your early novels.  She was all right with some of the short stories.)

For you, now, much of what happens when you compose is the act of going out, going somewhere, moving with measured step until you forget you are walking—until you reach the point where you are going somewhere, but not sure where, waiting, as it were, for associations and impressions and memories to catch up with you.  Some of these “going out” ventures are the equivalent of stuffing notes into bottles, then taking them to the beach, where you set them adrift, hopeful the tide will take them and you somewhere you had not thought to go.

There is a distinction between setting forth with a destination in mind, then being distracted from that destination because another has demanded your attention, and the more faith-based approach of setting your craft in the water (or sand, or mountain, or city), being “out” for a time, until you arrive somewhere.  Both are exciting, exhilarating approaches.  Both have at long last become friends upon whom you can rely.

Arriving at this point, there seems to you some continuity to what you observed here yesterday; this is the equivalent of a love letter to process rather than to outcome.  Make no mistake, you are destination oriented, but you want to be as surprised and delighted and informed by the scope and nature of the destination as you were by the initial urge to set forth, as your near-mentor said, for the territory ahead.  Huck was fleeing from being “sivilized.”  You are fleeing from the mechanical certainty of formula. Huck was rotten glad it was over.  You’re rotten glad to have discovered if.


Post a Comment