Friday, October 16, 2015

The Writer's Rabbit Hole

Back in the tumultuous days of your tumble into the rabbit hole of the writing life, you were on an extreme learning curve without even knowing such a thing as a learning curve existed.  

You would later find out about the term "learning curve" from an employer with whom probabilities suggested you would not get along, which is your attempt to avoid saying you were fated not to get along, you with him and him with you.

This is also an attempt to say that your experiences with this employer and your regard for the term "learning curve" to the contrary notwithstanding, you have no objection to the learning process.  Once inside the rabbit hole of the writing life, you understood how your appearance there was not by any means so accidental as the eponymous Alice, nor was it long before you progressed enough to learn that Alice had a real life counterpart, Alice Liddell.

You'd in effect spent some time looking for the rabbit hole, wanting some sense of how to recognize which of your habits and ambitions were worthwhile and which were insubstantial.

You also understood the need to learn your way about this wonderland of publishing and writing was through more reading, more attending of lectures, and more practice, which had two specific activities, the practice of reading and writing in the manner of writers you admired and did not like, and the practice of writing in the manner as close to being you as you were able to discern. 

Even at this remove, you see your more callow self as having understood the need for learning.  You attended lectures given by such notables as Malcolm Cowley, Irving Stone, Adela Rogers St. Johns, and Lionel Trilling as adjunct to your attending classes at the university, pleased to discover among your instructors men and women with considerable reputations, bodies of work, and opinions.  These latter elements you accepted as though they were gospel until their clamor of contesting opinions pushed you deeper yet into the rabbit hole,

There was nothing for it.  Your flashlights were losing their battery power.  Your candles were mere stubs, and although you smoked at the time, thus the regular presence of a lighter or matches, you began to suspect you were going to have to make your own choices, then live with the consequences of these choices if recognized authorities should disagree with you.  By the time you'd progressed to the point where you discovered there was such a thing as a learning curve, you'd already understood there was a bell curve.  

You have come at this stage of your life to understand that your distrust of and antipathy toward learning curves was based on the emotions surrounding your relationship with the individual from whom you discovered the term. This realization comforts you while assuring you that you have learned at least this much.

During your time in the rabbit hole of the writing life, you have seen an array of characters every bit as eccentric as those Alice saw in her rabbit hole.  You even saw in the chair of your department a prototype of the Mad Hatter, a man who also wore a vest much of the time and, in his lecture about Alice, clapped his hands together before asking a question that has remained with you ever since.  "How did the little girl get into the rabbit hole?"

At one point, early on, you believed it might be enough to say in effect, "Here I am."  Of course you needed a portfolio of work, a cornucopia of material demonstrating your range, whereupon you would be hired to produce a story or play or novel.  A journal might ask for a satire or parody.  You might even get one or two regular retainers, which everyone understood was the writer's way of earning a living.

A few individuals did say, "Oh, you're here, are you?" And you were a regular participant at a baseball game at which most of the players were members of the Writers' Guild.  No question about you being confused for one of the neighborhood kids who were chosen to fill in at empty positions.  One of the regulars said center field was yours whenever you wanted it.

What you had to learn was to be the rabbit hole character of your own true calling; you could not get far at all by being the Mad Hatter because he was already there, and if you weren't careful, he'd want to hit you up for ten dollars at a time when you knew how to stretch a ten-dollar bill into a crock pot of chili that would have you eating for a week.

You had to learn what you could from the men and women whose works you read, how they had effect on you, and what those effects caused you to think about during those unguarded moments when asleep, playing center field, shaving, or deciding what to add to the crock pot that would change the chili into something more intriguing and provocative.

You had to learn to walk those rabbit hole tunnels without hunching over or using body language suggestive that you did;t belong there.  Somewhere in that strange world where some did not trust their agents or publishers or producers, where the faults always belonged to the editors who said no, or to the so-called ideal reader (the one in Peoria), you had to walk tall, because you had a story you could tell.  Even if there was no one  to listen, you knew it was good, because the thought of telling it made you smile.

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