Monday, June 3, 2013

Plateaus and Platitudes

From the time you began activity submitting stories and essays to publications, you reached what you considered the basic plateau of competence.  Your immediate and ongoing wish was to work (read write) your way up to the plateaus you sensed had been achieved by the writers you admired or recognized as persons over whom you wished to demonstrate some superiority.

Looking at your notes, work, and impressions from years past reveals plateaus achieved and those notable by their absence.  The more you cast your sights upward, the more you realized there was an arduous climb ahead.

For the longest time, perhaps into the middle years, you named your desired plateaus with impossible titles, almost as though you were ascribing some sort of literary version of Mt. Everest or, even more vague, Valhalla.  You wanted to achieve such heights as good, insightful, funny (but not comedic), and upward to such heights as evocative, which of the desired plateaus at least had the best chance of meaning something.  To evoke meant to you  (and still does) the ability to produce a presence by inference on the part of the reader rather than from a straightforward description from you.

Such plateaus as good, insightful, and funny were things you tried to define to yourself, with no success.  You even tried entertaining, but that cost you considerable time and the frustration of realizing you were not, for a long period, entertaining yourself but were in fact trying too hard to accomplish something you could not describe much less evoke.

Another backslide was your attempts to be serious, in particular response to a number of acquaintances wondering when you were going to stop screwing around and get serious.  At the time, your approach was to stop reading any but writers who had reputations as serious writers.  Under the circumstances, how could you have approached them with anything less than dread?

This unfortunate line of thinking kept you from enjoyment of Willa Cather, Katherine Mansfield, Henry James, Cynthia Ozick, Aldous Huxley, and D. H. Lawrence, all of whom you've come to admire.  You were big on literary allusions and, worse still, direct references, on the mistaken theory that you needed the extra nudge of allusion to demonstrate your familiarity.

Such things are an enormous weight to carry while attempting to scale plateaus, which are difficult enough to scale without bearing the added weight of trying to become such things as insightful.  You were in effect working to acquire skills you later understood are worse handicaps than the perceptions you'd signed onto.

You do not, you discovered, acquire any measure of clarity or meaning or metaphor or even evocativeness bu including things; you in fact achieve more by a purposeful exclusion.  You do not become whatever the hell better is by working to become serious or insightful, you achieve the first sign of a plateau of your own by working to enjoy and by investigating the ways in which reading the work of others has cast the light of inquiry onto the darkness of enjoyment.

Had you thought about enjoyment during those days when you were seeking ways to entertain (tell jokes?  digress? make fun of?) you'd have doubtless added that to your list of subjective terms, concepts mired in subjectivity, resisting a straightforward investigation.  Part of your understanding of enjoyment is irony personified because it was nudged into a waking state when you read The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, who argued that the Sisyphus of that mythic punishment was in actuality a happy man, a man with a purpose significant enough to keep him pushing at that rock for all of eternity.

There is a loose-but-noticeable connection between the thought of Sisyphus and his rock and of the concept of karma yoga, which in its reductionist form translates to work as worship.  If writing is fun, even after all the things that must be unlearned to accomplish it, then it exists not as a punishment nor an adherence to a metaphor for endless, meaningless work.  If self-discovery and a negotiated settlement between the individual writer and the universe are in any sense worthwhile, the effort to approach these may be seen as a choice between obligation and an inspiration born of pleasure.

If you're driven to discover things from what you do, there is some potential that the acts of doing will provide a recognizable sense of appreciation,  Although the vocabulary for describing that recognizable sense may be slow in forthcoming, there is the thrill of the chase, the sweat of the effort, the incredible sense of a sweeping view as the self gains a foothold to the next plateau.

The cynic may attempt to finish off the argument with the observation that all visions are illusions, but so many of our species delight in illusions, and these may be closer to reality than we have yet been able to see.

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