Thursday, December 24, 2015


Even though you choose editorial clients with cautious care, a danger persists that you will discover in that client's approach to composition and narrative things that plagued you when you were beginning your own narrative ventures.

To provide yet more significant data to the squeeze you find yourself in, when you are reading an esteemed or as yet unknown to you writer, hopeful of the jolts of discovery, discomfort, and transportation you expect in the activity of reading for pleasure, the danger persists that you will discover this writer has found a way, perhaps even ways, around problems you labored over for years.  Perhaps you are in fact still laboring over them.

You've long given up on the notion that such metrics as your age, years already spent in the writing trenches, indeed, years spent editing the work of others provide you with automatic technique and the understanding of how to use technique as a tool.

There has only been one time in your life when you threw a book across the room, having directed the book at the wall facing you.  The book in question was Goodbye, Columbus and Other Stories, the author Philip Roth, so near a contemporary, in fact, two years younger than you, that this, his first book, revealed such depth of character, theme, pacing, and a degree of irony bordering on painful humor to a degree that made you grudgingly set aside any notion of being a youthful wonder.

Your throwing of his book was an act motivated by envy and one of the first real wounds of despair.  You have reread the book many times since then, most recently in connection with a project of your own, The Hundred Novels You Must Read before You Write Your Own, acknowledging it as the turning point in your regard for your own youthful energies and insights, now willing to see yourself having potential to be a late bloomer.

Three of the things you do with some regularity, compose, edit, and teach, are intertwined and engage you in clumps of activity rather appearing in single streams.  Thus time ticks away, leaving you with a combination of drafts of your own material, edited manuscripts and notes for clients, and, in some ways, the most mountain goat leaps of connection, notes prepared for classes.

Reading the published works of others is a constant reminder of how high the bar of craft has been set, reminding you of a contraption that figured in the required physical education classes you took in high school.  Between two sturdy posts set about eight feet apart, a bar of about eighteen inches width was mounted.  The bar paralleled the ground.  The two sturdy posts had holes set a foot apart, ascending vertically up the posts.  This allowed the instructor to adjust the bar at the individual student's waist.  

If you were able to place both hands on the horizontal bar, then vault over it without any other part of the bar, you'd earned a grade of C minus.  The next hole up earned you a C.  To get an A in this event, the horizontal bar had to be at the level of your head.

Once, in the eleventh grade, you managed a B in this event.  Most of the time you earned a C.  Your overall grade in physical education was frequently a B, earner by your performances in trance and field events such as the mile run, the broad jump, the high jump, and the running hop, skip, and jump.  You were barely able to earn the basic C for the rope climb; you had no interest in the shot put or the discus.

Your interest was in running, taking in huge gulps of air that were even more exciting to you than the mentholated cigarettes you'd begun to experiment with.  You loved the sense of glide and cadence while aware how, at times, even in hundred-yard dashes, both feet were off the ground.  You were airborne, skimming over the terrain, yet in a relationship with it.

You're reminded of such physical things, particularly the bar vault and the glide associated with running, at times when you read or compose, the bar vault representing potential technique, because, whether a high school student or a current reader, you see others doing it.  You're reminded of the expression, "Setting the bar high."  You're reminded of the rhythm and flight of running, and after you had to put your running activities away because of your now titanium hips, you are aware of swimming endless laps, your mind tuned to the motion of your body and the intoxicating limbo between water rushing past you or you, rushing past water.

Only when you are in some form of movement, whether from composing, editing, or teaching, are you able to feel the intrigue of potential discovery, of some remarkable connection that had not been made while all those past years were rushing past you, or you, rushing past them.  Without movement, there is no risk.  Without risk, there is no discovery.

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