Saturday, April 5, 2014

You Remind Me of Someone I Should Know

Your reading and writing habits have been, so far as you can recall, eclectic.  This no-special-genre approach, mixed with your no-special-historical-period tastes produced an odd cocktail in which any given writer had the potential for influencing the way you used words, characters, scenes, paragraphs, and particularly the point-of-view. 


Ah, you will say, chancing upon some older scrap, that was in the time you were relentless in your reading of Mark Twain, or perhaps Ernest Hemingway, or Eudora Welty, or Muriel Spark.  In this candid moment, you are willing to confess:  At any given time, your writing was either you, trying to sound like someone else, or you trying with great purpose to sound like you.  Either way, you were in a jam, what a friend of yours would call messed up.  It is one thing to have influences, another thing all together to be influenced by yourself.

The accomplished actor, having the task of portraying a character who is drunk, will know to take quite the opposite tack of the lurching, word-sloshing sot.  Instead, the skilled actor will portray an individual who with deliberate movements, exaggerating the attempt at control rather than its polar opposite.  The accomplished writer will have found things of value in a splendid stylist such as Philip Roth or Karen Russell, absorbed and noted these things to provide their own variations on a theme.

Then you met the university in a head-on collision.  For all practical purposes, you won because your goal at the university was to take the classes that seemed interesting to you, while coasting through the required courses.  Thus a big learning experience for you; there are no practical purposes connected with your goals.  You wished to learn how to become a writer. 

In some ways, you appear to have taken the path which was not so entirely positive and straightforward as you'd supposed.  Reading and writing in various genera informed the way you write, edit, and teach.  As well, these things influence the way you edit

Your path was to read and write a good deal, but it was also, at least on a subtext basis, to read and write yourself out of most other potential professions.  Law?  Out, even though ultimately you edited and dealt with a noted San Francisco attorney known as "The King of Torts."  Medicine?  Way out. even though, ultimately, you were editor of any number of doctors.  In a near perverted way, you were acquisitions and content editor for representatives of jobs and professions you burned your bridges toward.

At any rate, for this period of time, your reading was more historical, giving you a sense of how certain thematic and stylistic approaches evolved.  Now, you believe you can look at an unidentified page or two and come within fifty years of telling when it was published.  This is not good for you or bad for you.  This by no means makes you the sort of idiot savant the character of Raymond represented in the motion picture The Rain Man.  You knew narrative the way a singer knows lyrics or the actor remembers lines.

You in a sense had a similar experience after graduation, thanks to your immersion in the lower depths of the television industry, all the while trying to satisfy a literary agent who believed you could write short stories for what was then called the slick market, magazines printed on coated stock.  During this time, you close read commercial and literary materials published contemporarily.

You were, in effect, studying contemporary convention, which was a selling point when one publisher whose domain included a famed pocket book format, asked you what was so special about you that she should hire you.

"Taste,"  you said, "and awareness of conventions."

"You,"  she told you, "are either exactly what we are looking for or a menace."

As things evolved, you were neither, but that already didn't matter, because you'd returned to reading and writing at the eclectic level.  But now, you were not sounding like your contemporaries nor those whose work had caused you to indulge that foolish state where you thought you could write what they wrote.  

For all attendant good and ill, you placed yourself where you had to sound like yourself, where you teach like yourself, and you edit in that important way where the writer does not sound like you or any of your influences but rather like herself, because you know how to get self our and observance of convention in a given text.

If you live long enough, read and write enough, you will find a brief, happy time where you sound much the way you wished to sound right after your university days of reading and writing, and before the spiral into the dregs of television and writing for the slicks.  The true happiness will come from a form of validation when you are telling yourself, "See, it is coming out in ways you were hoping it would.  The difference is that yow, you are more relaxed and comfortable about it, and thus it is even more you than you thought you were then.




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