Friday, January 18, 2013

In a Relationship

With some regularity depending on when new semesters or quarters begin and you address students who appear interested in entering the writing life, you become yet more appreciative of the uphill struggle they and you face.

Friends who teach art, acting, and music, each in their own way, share this sense with you, causing you to feel that shivery pairing of desire and obstacles to be overcome.

More than once in these blog paragraphs, you've noted how you were in a sense seduced into this life as a result of your reading experiences, which, in aggregate, were scattered, certainly unstructured.  By the time you got into structure, which meant courses such as Seventeenth Century English Literature, or Nineteenth Century American Literature, or The Age of Pope and Dryden, the die had already been cast.  You were already in.  Structure was something you felt you had to endure.  The then chair of your undergraduate English department felt it another part of structure for you to take at least a year of English History, to provide a background against which the things you read were written.  Because of your raging interest in a classmate named Kay, you were learning more about anatomy than about English History, with the result that you took the year again, this time without sitting next to Kay.

But even then, you realized how you'd been led into the uncertainty of the life you were to lead because of the fact that most of the things you read seemed so easy, made it so accessible for you to experience it, made you think you could do it as well, your passport being that you were in love with it, ached for it in ways similar and yet significant in their differences from the way you felt about Kay.

The writing life, like any relationship, is about love.  You've had to investigate the ways of loving self, others, and the life, itself.  They all seemed so easy at first, an appearance you gleaned from watching men and women you admired, seeming to deal with similar techniques.  You had some bumpy rides, learning to love yourself, and so you thought to skip over that for a while, looking for ways to love others.  The least problematic at first was the writing life, itself.  All you needed was to read omnivorously, write with persistent regularity, edit with severity, take risks.

Somewhere along the way, about the time, you reckon, when you discovered the ease of getting ideas did not guarantee the coordination of getting them down on paper, you felt like the Titanic, not substantial against the icebergs.  Your sister, meaning nothing but help and encouragement, suggested your beginning spot was developing a style and a voice, a suggestion fraught with distractions because you were not yet sure who you were, much less were you able to love the venture that was you.  How then should you expect to be able to love anyone or know which of the things you read and were excited by you actually loved?

A few jobs taken outside the writing life seemed so numbing that you were quick to find ways to do the writing life equivalent of what lesser actors or musicians do:  show up, read your lines, move on.  The days were long.  Your room was littered with drafts of things written in a hurry and either mailed in or hand delivered, notably one novel, slid under a publisher's door, five or six pages at a time.

Try getting along peacefully with friends who ask you when you're going to write something serious?  You were dead serious, a fact you realized one evening when you'd been shrewd enough to start out your evening of drinking within walking distance of your apartment.  As you recall it, you were quite aware of being drunk, resting, or so you'd thought, on a front lawn fence, when someone asked if you were all right.  You were more than all right, because you'd solved the first of a few necessary problems related to loving yourself and others, thus having an understanding of who you were and how you felt about "things," either things in general or things in specificity.  Your insight was a matter of being quite serious about being funny.  Funny was your attitude, your voice.  If you were not funny, there was cause for editorial and thematic investigation.  If you were serious and not funny, you were a goddamn academic and you had no wish to become one of those, particularly since you'd seen what it had done to a dear friend.

How to convey such things to students you're meeting for the first time?

As you see it, the answer opens the door for at least two more essays here, including the detour into becoming an editor, which was an accident, and the detour whereby you were recruited into teaching because of your editorial experience (also an accident:  an editor from a competing publisher asked you to do him the favor of taking two of his classes while he attended a sales conference).

Start with why you're here.  In the beginning of a relationship, there is chemistry and the mutual sense of good looks.  There was chemistry between you and the writing life.  Each thought the other good looking.  Now, you are in a real relationship.  It never asks you when you're coming home or why you forgot an anniversary.  Sometimes, you spend hours together and no one says a word.  There is connection and respect and a sense of companionship you could never have imagined when your goal was merely to write stories of lasting, resonant worth.  Now, it is enough that you are in each other's company and you understand one another.

Sometimes, when you're out for dinner with the boys or on an occasional date, you're aware of wanting to take something home for your dog, Sally, and the companion of your relationship.  Different gifts for each, yet each contains a large measure of you, because this is what relationships are.

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