Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Takeaway



The Aussies and Brits regard takeaway as a synonym for what we Yanks think of as take-out food, some meal or snack ordered in one establishment to be eaten elsewhere. Takeaway can also mean some tangible result of an encounter. You take the liberty of asserting the degree to which the reading of a story, the watching of a play or filmed drama or concert or dance production leaves the viewer, the reader, the audience with a sense of having a complex, satisfying, and dramatic emotional experience.

The takeaway from experiencing some artistic performance might well not be comfort or assurance, rather instead discomfort, disturbance, melancholy, calling upon the viewer to consider some shift in moral and/or esthetic value.

After your teen and early twenties years, you began to see a major shift in your regard for outcomes. At first, you thought this shift might be political. Indeed, your undergraduate minor had been political science, which influenced your thinking, particularly since many of your friends were thinking about graduate school and the prospect of professions after completion.

At that time, you could see no connection between graduate school and the professional life you hoped to lead. Although you had a goal in mind, you had no specific plan for reaching it beyond the notion that you should both read and try to absorb everything you could get your hands on and write in as many genera as possible in hopes of finding the areas best resonant with your curiosity.

The most dramatic way you can think of to describe your growing state of mind and being is to begin with the fact that you began to lose your interest in observing the outcomes of sports events on the grounds that there was no memorable takeaway to be had as a spectator, when, in comparison, there were great prospects of takeaway from reading, from watching plays, from watching certain filmed dramas, and from attending musical and dance events.

When you reached the stage where you were rereading things, sometimes for the third or fourth time, you noticed an even greater sense of takeaway reward. You tested re-watching such film as The Magnificient Ambersons (which you continued to like more than Citizen Kane), The Third Man, and Les Enfants du Paradise, in the process finding wry shared humor with Mark Twain's assessment of how much his father had seemed to have learned as Twain grew older. 

There were such memorable and notable takeaway from reading, attending dramas and concerts that you no longer cared about watching sports. To be sure, you enjoyed playing baseball, at which you were passably good, and touch and flag football, but these were more for the exercise and socializing that went with them rather than any concern for outcome.

Into your late thirties, you gravitated toward distance running, but even when you ran in competitions,your real pleasure was the takeaway of competing against your own personal best times and the considerable sense of well-being experienced during the day, whether running at the moment or writing or editing. The real takeaway from distance running was the discipline of doing it every day, a discipline you applied to reading and writing. When your finances needed attending to and you needed to find a job, you noticed how having a job, a writing habit, a reading habit, and a running habit left you precious little time for such activities as worry, excessive introspection, procrastination, or the behavior of protest.

Being busy in this sense meant you were in good physical shape, were putting your finances to rights, and, as significant takeaways, reading, rereading, writing,rewriting, throwing away both the writing and rewriting, then, somehow, reading some more and writing some more, reminding you of how it felt to have been at the university, but feeling as well more purposeful. 

During this regime, batting averages, win-lost records, team rosters, league standings, and various forms of rankings, formerly at the fingertip equivalent of memory, began to fade. You don't use it, you'll lose it, taking its toll. At the same time,there seemed to be more room in the memory for books and stories read, reread, and discussed.

You were averaging forty to fifty miles of running a week, at least one book read or reread, and, somehow, at least an hour a day spent at writing. There were two memorable takeaways during this period of your life:  You got by on less sleep, and that wildly intangible quality, the narrative voice, began to slip into your work, with the result that editors and literary agents were beginning to read your work all the way through, some of them accepting your work for publication or offering to represent you.

One weekend during this time stands forth in your memory. Friday night, attending a reunion party,your intention drinking only Perrier water and a few canap├ęs, but instead having several drinks with a distinct alcohol content and somehow managing to eat a large order of baby back ribs. Saturday morning, competing in a half-marathon over a grueling course, made worse by a raging hangover that no amount of Gatorade could seem to quench. Sunday brunch with a literary agent who believed and expected all writers to be drunks and who, your protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, kept signaling the waiter to bring more bloody Mary's. Monday, hangover to the contrary notwithstanding, editorial meeting day at the publishing company where you worked. Monday evening, a ten-mile run.

This weekend remains in memory because, hangovers to the contrary, you were largely happy because the writing was going well, the reading seemed to be keeping your mind ans spirits alert and curious, your take on the writing you'd produced on those days was not bad, and because the agent had secured a contract for you with a publisher known to be tough but fair, provided you delivered the completed work on time and of an acceptable quality. Which you did.

The weekend left you with an agreeable takeaway, and you managed as well to articulate the need to provide unknown readers a takeaway in whatever short story, review, or novel you were engaged in producing.  No takeaway, no story or essay.  That's how simple the matter is.

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