Saturday, March 29, 2014

Avoidance Mechanisms

You frequently find yourself using the abstraction of one keepable page a day.  The page can be a page of any project, a review, an essay, or, jumping over into fiction, a page of a novel or short story.

The definition of that abstraction makes for even greater abstraction yet.  A keepable page is one for which there would be no edits or emendations.  So, you see, there is trouble from the get-go.  Best to define downward to the point where a keepable page a day is a page of text that will in large measure stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

The most tempting part of the original abstraction is the final reckoning. Three hundred sixty-five keepable pages a year gets you close, say ninety percent close, to a book a year, which at one time might come close to providing you the equivalent of a living wage.  All that from one keepable page a day.  

Your flight of fancy lifts itself aloft above the metaphor with the reckoning that reviews and unanticipated assignments might bring in enough to raise the barrier on the living wage abstraction, say an occasional night out on the town, a play or film, or perhaps if a good musician is passing through, off to a place where you can listen.  In a good year, the possibility of the occasional meal at Sly's on Linden Avenue in Carpinteria.

On any given day within the year, there is no accurate metric by which you can compute how many pages you must write in order to achieve that abstraction, nor does the fact of a day's work allowing you a significant number of pages, say as many as twenty, come with a guarantee that your odds of finding a keepable page within those is enhanced.  You could, in theory, produce one splendid, spotless page, then discover on close examination that the page has achieved status.

There is the equivalent of at least a full, keepable page, handwritten on a notepad at your feet, being the opening scene of a short story, set several thousand years ago in Europe.  You've looked at it several times without feeling the need to tweak a word or sentence.  That page was originally written in one day, as a sort of between-the-acts getting you from chore to chore, but you now reckon from all the marginalia and cross-out words, that the material can no longer qualify as the keepable page of any particular day.  

Nor can you be certain there will be no additional changes of words, sentences, or paragraphs until the entire narrative comes home to stay.  This is not a good example of the simplistic one-page-a-day meme; you have in fact been working on this particular story for at least ten years.  Maybe even more.

You can see this leading you to another abstraction about keepable days.  Much as you'd sometimes wish, there is no delete button for days lacking in positive substance, days which imply productivity, personal growth, the equivalent of a tithe to the human condition, relationships with others, and that even more abstract abstraction, relevancy.

The closest you can come to doing for your life many of the salient things you do for a work in progress is to strive for some sort of balance between being focused on productivity, personal growth, giving of something to the Human Condition, making eye contact with personal relationships, and asking yourself in a brotherly way if you are relevant to the story going on about you.

It has become your observation that one or the other suffers.  Persons who are caught up in the life of being salient in their work are often remiss in personal relationships such as relationships, self-education, and empathy.  Persons who feel too strong a tug away from their work often find ways to lash out at the work they are not doing and the work others are doing.

Can a person tread that narrow cusp between the work and the social contract, or is this, too, an abstraction.

Back in the day of the typewritten or handwritten first draft, there was a congratulatory pile of manuscript, visible before one as a benchmark.  Things have changed in a technical sense.  The keystrokes are now stored on a disc rather than words on pages, but the abstractions remain.

At some point today, in a staged interview you were conducting with a novelist before the Friends of the Camarillo (Ventura County, California) Library, you asked him what his plan or vision was for his future work.  The question seemed to surprise him, then delight, and at length energize him into a resonant vision of who he is in the context of his promising career as a novelist.

Driving home, you continued the questioning to your lone self, comfortable in your Yaris, heading northward toward home and an anticipated dinner at Sly's.  Your answer to yourself was you intent to continue in your attempts to provide as many keepable pages as you can.  But that was not answer enough.  To what end, you asked yourself.  What was your end goal?

Ah, you said, every bit as surprised as Jamie Ford was with the question you'd put to him.  Then delight came to you, at length providing a tingle of energy.  You write to produce the keepable page and in the process avoid becoming an asshole in the perceptions of those with whom you have the most direct dealings.


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