Sunday, May 18, 2014

Encounters with Failure

Things that cry out for your attention:

1.  Being about to sneeze.

2,  Being standing or seated before an audience, having an intense itch, mid back.

3.  The skin of a portion of the body covered by a cast or thick bandage, erupting in a significant enough sweat to cause  a droplet to form, then descend, 

4.  The annoying awareness of a pebble or sharp foreign object in your shoe, while you are wearing it, while you are halfway through walking across a busy street.

5. Being awakened at three in the morning with a more-than-urgent need to pee.

6.  Any of several potential dreams in which you are lost and trying to find where you are, aware you are sitting for a final examination in a class you haven't attended all semester; in a situation (possibly sexual) with someone you'd never think to be in such a situation (which is disturbing enough), then wondering what you'd said or done to bring about this situation.

There are other real-life and dream situations,by degrees imperative, disturbing, or arresting.  But these six hold a common theme which you relate to the sum of notes, observations, and portions of drafts of stories and essays you have squirreled away in the dozens of notebooks scattered about your studio.

One major purpose of making the notes is to achieve the first tangible sense of satisfaction in the entire activity of writing, which is getting down on paper or hard drive a string of words significant to you.  Part of the implication in the word "significant" is a string of words you believe has potential to become a longer, developed, possibly even completed string of words, or an insight you are convinced will become an active part of your creative toolkit.

Another purpose for making the notes is to provide you with reading material of the sort that will shove you into your daily time for composition, locking the door behind you, as it were, causing you to form a sense of congruence with the notes whereby you are they and they are you.

Into this calculus comes a concept you have lived with much of your life, for certain those years in which you have professed your main interests and goals in your working life.  The concept is failure, which you define here as a condition of not achieving or meeting goals on a project-by-project basis to the degree you'd hoped when engaging the goals.  The concept of failure has a given that you will, in attempting to bring project goals to fruition, have done beyond your expected best in order to achieve the anticipated best.

This last item, taken for granted, is the grace note that allows you some measure of comfort.  In baseball statistics, a player who is not at bat is a fielder, judged then in accountability by a metric known as a fielding average.  The fulcrum of the fielding average is the meme of chances accepted.  How many successful attempts a player made at a fielding opportunity are compared in ratio to the number of unsuccessful or error circumstances.

The baseball player also faces another metric as a batter, involving total number of times at bat against such performances as hits.

In the days when motion pictures and certain television programming were recorded on film, a director was measured against a metric called a burn ratio, in which he was judged by the number of frames of film actually filmed at sound speed against the number of frames in the final print version.

You are somewhat mixing apples and oranges here, certainly metaphors because here you are, looking at finished products, then taking into consideration the number of drafts to accomplish them.  One immediate flaw in logic is the worth of any ratio of numbers of pages or drafts or, yes, even notes or revisions, as a measurable standard of acceptable performance.  

Then there is the additional and quite delightful wedge into logic, Acceptable performance according to whom?

All these exciting possibilities for error, failure, and burn ratio explode before you each time you embark on that first venture of making notes.  One such example had results reminiscent of the six attention-getters listed above.  Julie O'Connor and Keith Kapuy, often providers to you of notebooks, gave you a useful, well-bound notebook of about the size of a four-by-six photo print.  You'd saved it for nearly a year before writing anything in it, pretty much thinking the notes you'd made were in fact close enough to a full first draft of text that you would use the notebook for that one project.

Something out of routine happened next.  You had the notebook with you at one of the places you ordinary stop for coffee, thinking to add more lines to those notes.  Instead, another idea came to you.  Rather than lose this, you started in on it, covering two or three pages.  Now, you had a notebook with two things to work on, or so you thought when you carried with you next to a restaurant in Carpinteria where you go on occasion for lunch.

You do not ordinarily leave notebooks in restaurants, but you left this one.  Not to worry, the notebook had your name and phone number in it, but when you returned to rescue it.  But when you did, you got a tale of irony often associated with closure.  Someone had seen the notebook, then read the few pages of notes, which were so intriguing, your reporter claimed, that the finder gave the notebook to a young writer he knew, a young person struggling to, as he put it, "gain traction in the world of writing."  

Irony stumbles all over itself here, in the manner of a drunk, returning home after a night of carouse, attempting to fit his door key into the lock.  For some time in your life, you scoured used bookstores, attempting to find the one book that would inspire you toward a discovery that would turn your views of storytelling upside down and inside out, resulting in an arrived state, by which you mean arrived at his own voice and vision.

Then you realized for there to be such a book, you'd have to write it yourself.  You have in fact been attempting to write such a book.  Your most recent one, The Fiction Writers' Handbook, was a step in that direction.  The edits on your most recent completion cause you to think you may have taken a step closer.  Steps, mind you; steps away from one kind of failure, toward another kind.  

Perhaps if you were to be convinced your life depended on your ability to say what those two note excerpts in the missing notebook were, you could recall.  Perhaps even if Peter, the psychiatrist who workshops his novel at your Saturday writers' group, could hypnotize you, there might be some hope of recall.  Now, the lost notebook is a step beyond a concept for a fantasy or metaphor, wherein your lost notes prove inspiration for another writer who, after all, was nevertheless an early reader of yours.

If you were able, at this stage of your life, to capture ideas on the page at the intensity of quality in which the ideas appeared to you, no doubt you'd be suspicious.  Ideas have to be exciting enough to intrigue you, capture and then hold your interest while you set forth on your next encounter with failure.

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