Saturday, September 24, 2016

Grocery Lists

By the time you've settled into the composition you hope to undertake on any given day, you are driven, if not spurred onward, by the effect of the thing to be written about, your attitude toward it, and its place in your estimation. 

You are in fact so caught up in such vital signs as technique, voicing, and placement along the pathway of humor that you forget one of the vital presences in your life.

Most composers can recount an early time in their life when they felt bullied and overwhelmed by loss. Individuals whose composition is considered more scientific or engineering driven or even entrepreneurially driven have also experienced the seemingly unrelenting presence of loss; this is, after all, a reason why loss plays such a role in our productivity and behavior.

True enough, you've experienced stinging losses of friends, dreams, even ideals. On a lesser level, you've lost hair, teeth, mobility, youth, but these in their own way actually provide you with perspective, tolerance, acceptance, not only of your own condition but of the entire humanity, extending to plants, animals, and nonorganic compositions.

The loss of which you speak and for which you hold warmth and respect is the loss of excess in the pursuit of a vision, the loss of over-description as you attempt to separate it from such component pasts as may well be unnecessary.

The goal for a composer is to produce work as close to the individuality of you as possible, reflecting not only an idea but your idea, told in your way, with your vocabulary, with your level of feeling and subtext.

You must lose all detail not directly involved in presenting your subject matter, however insignificant or narrow in scope. In effect, even your grocery list must be specific to the person preparing it. Still prominent in your memory, the discussion you had with your mother in the matter of preparing such lists.  "How," you asked, "can you rely on an entry as vague as 'staples.' What are staples?"

"I know perfectly well what I mean by staples. They are my staples. I don't have to put down brands or even types of lettuce or cabbage. I buy iceberg lettuce, not bok chop. I know to within an inch or circumference the size and density of a head of cabbage. You'll note when I send you bicycling down to the market to get things, I send you with a specific list and I tell you in advance, 'No substitutes.'"

Loss is the number of times you hit the delete key on your computer. It used to be crumpled pages, yanked from the typewriter, or lined legal pads, covered with your handwriting, torn out to be cast aside because some errant notion got in the way, because you were attempting to describe things instead of trying to evoke a sense of who you were or some characters of your invention were when caught up in the midst of story.

Loss becomes the times you describe yourself out of the story you are attempting to define; it becomes the time away from your vision, time you've spent not sounding like you or one of your creations.

Early in the game, when you were aware of the materials not sounding like you, you were aware of them sounding like those writers you cherished or, in more negative cases, like the text books passed out to you in a spate of schools, where there were lesson plans and agreed-upon cultural standards students such as you were supposed to sound like.


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