Sunday, December 25, 2016

One for My Maybe and One More for the Woad

Depending on such realities as the times your classes are scheduled or the pure whim of being able to begin the day's writing activities, your two basic matters to confront are:

1) What is the project you'll be working on 
2) Will you work at home or "go out," 

this last option having a direct correlation to you and the idiosyncrasies inherent in your writing self.

To be clear and illustrative, your "home," a compact, two-room and tiny bath space, is ideal for your purposes, relatively free of detached connections to ambient noise, buffered on three sides with garden, the fourth side separated from direct contact by a tall hedge and, beyond that, a wide-enough-to-serve-as-easement driveway. The fact of an Animal Control facility at one end of the long drive and a fire station at the other does not imply distractions to work or concentration that need to be overcome.

The question of working "in," or "out," is more a reflection on your own inner ambience. Much of the time, you are well able to work in the calm and comfortable quite of "in."  Those other times, when you are not able to settle immediately to work, have in common your ability to focus enough on the writer within, the conglomeration of senses, memories, impressions, ideas, and enthusiasm you like to bring with your combination toolkit and lunchbox.

Your choice of outside workplaces becomes a matter of which coffee shop has the best level of ambient noise and distraction. Thus, for the sake of work, you rank the coffee shop not by the quality of its coffee, rather by the type and intensity of ambient noise.

An out-of-home writing session might begin with the assessment, How much focus will you need to begin working? This to be followed with, will you be able to type on your laptop, or will you be writing on a legal pad? Do you require the flat-out noise of The Daily Grind, or perhaps the less persistent ambience of Peet's? Perhaps you'd be more comfortable with The French Press on State Street. 

On the other hand, perhaps what you need is the more dedicated sense of concentration you experience at French Press across the street from Antioch. And, just in case your inner disarray communicates a need for the anarchy of experiment, perhaps a place where you haven't been for some time, say Red's in the Funk Zone, or The Handlebar, or, more notional yet, the six or seven miles south to Carpinteria, where The Lucky Llama awaits. 

Starbucks is simply not on the table, even though there are a number of them nearby and, in particular when you are traveling beyond Santa Barbara, you've been known to enjoy a flat white at Starbucks. The issue here is the need for a particular kind of focus to help overcome some of the static and interference with writing as close to spot-on as possible.

In a literal and figurative sense, this business of where and how to work is a set-up, it is so in the same way "A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar" is a set-up for a joke, which, by its own nature, is a form of story, waiting for the punchline of closure.

You've read much, talked much, and thought a great deal about the processes of composition and of revising earlier drafts. This process is all the more meaningful to you given your earlier experiences with an approach wherein draft one was for the material and draft two was to correct spelling, at which you were awful. The way things stand today, there are places in the living and dining areas of your studio where one can find discreet stacks of handwritten pages or print-outs of pages that bear the scribbles and dithering of your revision attempts. Part of your process for work, as you noted a few paragraphs ago, is which thing to work on at a given moment. 

That is also the set-up. "This writer sees a stack of manuscript, picks it up, and begins reading to see what it is."  You could call that Act One.  Act Two, "The writer becomes intrigued by the material and wonders how the fuck it got into his apartment.  Ah, he thinks, probably a student's manuscript, or an editing job he took on, then conveniently forgot.

Of course the payoff is the realization that the writer is, in fact, the writer of the material, which awareness helps him recapture the enthusiasm and mechanics of having written this much and in this much detail. The added payoff came when the teacher aspects of you and the book reviewer aspects and the editorial background are already suggesting changes in the order of scenes, conflating lines of dialogue, removing unnecessary details, things that imply without needing further description.

The setting is, for example, early Middle Ages England, and a tribal elder is observing to a lost young man, "When you come to the turn in the woad--"

"You mean road."

"Damnit, boy, I know what I mean. I'm talking about a dye, made from the leaves of the oxalis. Turns the body a proper blue for the ritual dances, don't you know?"

There are times as well when the set-up, the discovery of the handwritten or printed-out draft, indicates flat, disingenuous narrative, and opportunity to learn from whoever left this material among your material, that writer person who should have known better than to stay and home and endure the separation when a few hours at The Good Cup or French Press would have worked wonders.

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