Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Writer's Journey from First Page to Last.

The greater the distance between a starting point A and its destination, point B, the greater the possibility you will think of the venture as a journey.  We speak of a visit to the grocery store or the post office as a trip.  If we are in some traffic-intense landscape such as Los Angeles or San Francisco or midtown Manhattan, we tend to elevate the venture from a trip to an ordeal.


Journey has a nice sound to it, resonant of mature, well-thought-out deliberation rather than something undertaken on the spur of the moment.  Without giving the matter much serious thought, you begin to see you've always reserved joyrneys for something lofty, important, mind enhancing.  

You would never consider making a journey to Goleta any more than, when you lived in Los Angeles, you would consider Van Nuys as a serious destination.  You've had occasions to visit Goleta.  Indeed, your Toyota dealer is there, but even though necessary, a trip to Goleta to have your car serviced is among the last things you'd consider a journey.

While it is true that you have on occasion gone to Van Nuys, often the reason was part of some dark whim or, more likely, to traverse it.  Van Nuys is not a place you go on a journey; Van Nuys is a place you drive through.  Van Nuys is not a destination, 

Journeys are about destinations, which may be mental or physical, philosophical or geographical, thus a bildungsroman or coming-of-age novel, is about a journey from childhood to some early part of maturity.  There are sentimental journeys in which the traveler follows the path of nostalgia or curiosity, returning to places that once afforded inner peace and inspiration.  One famous sentimental journey becomes the title for a 1768 novel by Laurence Sterne in which, at first, there was no destination.  

More than one critic has seen Sterne's Sentimental Journey and another novel best known by its shortened form Tristram Shandy, as an enlightened look at the post-modernist, post-impressionist, and metafictional novels of the most recent fifty years.  You're of that mind as well because you like the notion of men and women who have appeared from time to time, seeming to  depict a world and way of looking at it that differs from other contemporary views of literature.

Although known more as a storyteller and novelist, your own choice for bright star in the literary firmament was essentially a travel writer.  Witness The Innocents Abroad, whose successes prompted Roughing It, A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator, and the magisterial Life on the Mississippi.  

In a true sense, Huckleberry Finn was an epic journey down a river Twain had piloted many a steamboat, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court packed some of Twain's favored devices of travel, ironic comparison, and time travel into one novel.

A journey is not to be undertaken lightly; there is often some subtext or motive behind it, suggesting the participant has given considerable thought to some hoped for outcome.  As you become involved with a project, however short or long, you realize the importance of setting off with an intriguing thematic flourish in the first sentence.  The immediate goal of that sentence is to provide you, as composer, with the next sentence, then the next and the next, past endings of chapters, meandering with the weight of the waters of a descending stream into the last line of the story.

That will have been a journey.  To make certain those who read it remain, your best strategy is to make the journey as white knuckle as possible, playing on all your fears, conspiracy theories, and  weaknesses.  As you move from sentence to sentence, the metaphor of white water rafting or kayaking growing stronger in your imagination, remember your hand, draped over the edge of the craft,dipping into the water, and then, around the next bend, the sight of alligator or crocodile, causing you in sudden fear to withdrawn your hand from its casual immersion and bring it into your lap, where you can watch it more closely.

Simply and more complexly put, you are not the same person after the journey.  For all you recognize a bit of nagging frustration and occasional self-examination on the brutal side, you are smug for a time at the end.  You remind yourself of one who has consumed one or two glasses of pinot noir with a top sirloin or rib eye steak, content for a few moments, at some measure of comfort with the world.

Soon, all too soon, the effects of the steak and wine will have worn away.  You are quick to remind yourself you will recover.  But not too quick, nor will the recovery be that complete.

As a younger man, many of your physical journeys began with a late-at-night-scratching or meowing outside your bedroom window, awakening you from young man dreams and young man frustrations.  With wakefulness came the curiosity.  Which of your friends had become drunk enough to need tangible adventure?  Was it Don, whose drunken visits seemed to require camping trips to California or Nevada ghost towns?  Was it Jerry, whose personal, drunken bouts of angst seemed to favor revitalizing experiences, which often meant some godforsaken outdoor spa?  Was it Richard, who promised he had at least three bottles of a respectable red.

There is something soothing about waking up hungover in some mountain or desert remove, seeing how far you'd traveled to get away from whatever it was causing you trouble in the city.  In the early dawn chill, the length of your morning pee and the intensity of your hangover headache remind you of the purpose your had for being here, at this remove from your inner demons.
The smell of campfire coffee, of the sort you'd never drink at home, reminding you of the journey you were embarked on.

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