Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bulls I

I've done a lot of mental meta about writing. This is a separate exercise from actually putting down words and making some sort of coherent (and being me, sort of funny with an edge) narrative. I think that if you don't do the meta part of it, then a lot of the horrible, mean reds part of writing remains inexplicable. It does help a little when you desperately need perspective. Because writing is so personal. And reading is so personal. Sometimes, there just isn't a groove there. Insert frustrated grunt. So, you know things. But a lot of the time that means that the knowing isn't anything more than just a tacit acknowledgment that you write, you try to say something somewhat meaningful, you put stuff down on the page, and then you wait for the arrow to puncture the small of your back.

Being an extremely practical person at heart, I never really understood the concept of art as a form of self-flagellation until I started writing. Because I'd always been in the world of the concrete. As a pastry chef, you can completely quantify whether this is a good apple pie or a bad apple pie. Really, there's no contest. I can make an apple pie that's better than sex. I wish I had that sort of confidence with my writing.

As I said today to friend, art (and for me that means writing) is more or less about putting a gigantic bulls-eye on your back. Because art is not a one-way street. The reader brings their baggage. You bring your baggage. And pretty soon we need an entire contingent of Sky Caps to cart this shit around. When it works, your baggage (as the writer) meshes nicely with the reader's baggage so that you're basically opening up your suitcases and laughing hysterically and tossing all your shit that goes bump in your night into the air so that it co-mingles with their shit that goes bump in the night. And it's sort of the same color. Lots of scarves. Heavy on the red.

But how to ensure the contents of the suitcases match? You can't. You just HOPE that they have lots of red scarves because you've done your best and you can't say it any other way. Writing is based a lot on hope.

When you don't connect with your reader, then there is the opening of suitcases and they haul out suits with matching spectator pumps and you haul out jeans with a humongous rip in the right knee and tee shirts foisted on you for your generous donations to your local blood bank. And although they are both technically defined as clothes, the similarity ends there. Book is shut, author is consigned to the resale pile, sale is resented. You have not connected and you will never connect because we are literally casting pearls before swine. Or, more to the point, casting words before those who think you are swine.

The point I'm making is that as artists, whether it's with words or pen, we are so vulnerable. I'd like to think that what makes my writing appealing is that I share with you, the reader, my inner secrets. Okay, I'm not about to blab that Ive got some closet fetish for pink underwear covered with garish hearts (I do not), but in the book that's about to come out, I have my protagonist admit that she'd rather write checks than admit to car mechanics that she's stupid. THAT'S ME! I'd rather write a check (fortunately, my husband understands cars so this isn't my reality) than admit I'm stupid about cars. I am profoundly stupid about cars. Machinery is the anti-christ as far as I am concerned. I am a complete and total Luddite. That I happen to be profoundlly smart about a lot of other things sort of balances out this disability, but I couldn't help but put that silly, stupid tidbit about me down in words. Because I recognize that it's stupid, but it's profoundly human as well.

The best writing is the bravest writing. When you do sort of silently bleed on the page. But then you have this sharing of baggage that happens between the writer and the reader and if the contents of the suitcases don't work? You've just bared your soul as an idiot who would rather write checks than admit to stupidity to someone who took four years of auto-shop.

It's a gamble. One that I obviously make. But I cringe at the thought that someone's lining up the arrow and positioning the bow. And then letting go.


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