Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Write Stuff

It's a fine line between clever and stupid. Lord knows I straddle it every day. Does anyone care about my carefully crafted observations, those tight little nuggets of wisdom I've gleaned from years of studying the human condition? You know, the great mysteries like why Pakistani broads are so hairy. Am I giving the people what they want? Is it form or content? Vocabularic gymnastics or simple truths?

The simple truth is that there are a million sentences and themes colliding in my brain and I've no idea where any of them--save one--will take me at this moment.

I think too much. It's always been a problem, one that manifested itself most frequently in a pretty brutal case of insomnia that lasted into my 30s. When I was a kid, I was afraid of everything: Being kidnapped and buried alive, various monsters, Global Thermonuclear War. I didn't dare shut my eyes for fear of the horrors that would visit me in my sleep. Later, it was my life failures, my sense of powerlessness to stem a downward spiral and repeated panic attacks that had me convinced I'd never see 40. Years of a happy marriage, general satisfaction and increased self-assurance have reversed that course, but I still spend too much time inside my own head.

Lately, much of that mental self-examination has centered around this little blog deal. Though I still like to think this is all for me ("self-indulgent" even, as some have criticized), there can be no doubt that I'm writing for an audience. And that is a factor in what I put down, a factor that has altered the way I approach these posts.

The issue is whether that's a bad thing. I don't feel like I've changed my core principals, like performing for readers is, in some way, a betrayal of my creative muse (though use of the phrase "creative muse" might be). In fact, I think it might be a step in my development as a writer, development being the ultimate goal. Surely, I've gained a modicum of discipline by feeling like I need to be a regular presence here. The few aborted attempts I've made to pursue writing have always crashed on the rocks of my poor self-discipline. That there are people out there who read this regularly, even some who like it, has given me a sense of responsibility.

Of course, responsibility isn't something with which I'm entirely comfortable. And I look around at other writers and mock myself for thinking I could compete with them.

I'm not fishing for validation here. It's nice when someone reacts to something I wrote in the same manner I do. I'm plenty proud of some of the good shit I've managed to squeeze out in this space. And, at the end of the day, this is a mostly enjoyable process, even if it never takes me further than this home base. But I know there are other worlds to conquer, treks that will take more discipline and more skill than I've featured here. As such, I'm afraid. Somebody hold me.

Sure, I tell myself, this happy crappy little blog is fun and I've benefited in myriad ways from the friendship and camaraderie of my peers. But it's not exactly the Great American Novel, is it? It's not a long-form, coherent, literary narrative that makes grown men weep or little girls sigh.


What really set me on this path of thought was a couple books I've read recently. I just finished the latest novel from Tom Wolfe, "I Am Charlotte Simmons." I revere Wolfe, as might be expected considering my profession, the deserved "Dean of New Journalism." Our society grieves for the loss of the kind of sharp commentary Wolfe and his peers (HST, Terry Southern, George Plimpton) provided and there's a huge hole where they once ruled (I'm sorry Mr. Franzen, your application has been rejected). But Wolfe isn't that same guy any longer. Hell, he's not even the "Bonfire of the Vanities" guy any longer. "Charlotte" was obvious in its satire, shallow in its subject matter and exposed no more folly than your average daily newspaper. I won't even mention the clunky "sex" prose.

Yet, there is one chapter, one extended passage, where his powers as a story-teller are in full evidence. Where, like the best can, he found the audience. He found ME. He put his arm around my shoulder and took me down a trodden path, summoning dormant feelings and sharp memory. It was as if he'd taken a snap shot of my life and projected it on an IMAX screen so perfectly did he convey the despair, the abject depression of the protagonist. It was masterful and, for that all-too-brief 40 pages, I was blown away. As opposed to the other 680 pages where I was merely a semi-interested observer.

The other book, which I've mentioned here previously, is "The Tender Bar," by J.R. Moehringer. Unlike the Wolfe novel, this memoir hit me in so many different ways I can't begin to enumerate them. Just fantastic on so many levels, speaking to me as a writer, as a son and father, as someone who made bad choices and cowered in the face of difficult decisions. More importantly, Moehringer is telling his own life--like the blog here--yet you are not simply an observer. He pulls you in! You not only identify with him, you are him!

As I said, there are a plethora of little moments in this book with which I could identify. The themes, personal though they may be, are also universal and easily tapped due to the inclusive nature of the tale. I can't recommend it highly enough and I couldn't aspire to anything more meaningful.


So what does my jaunt down Book Criticism Lane have to do with me and my blog/writing/mental health issues?

Nothing. Everything. The blog has spawned new goals, which are quite possibly unreachable, irresponsible and/or idiotic. But I know one thing: I've connected with the audience a couple times. I've taken you down that trodden path. Does that mean I'm ready to graduate to the bestseller lists? Because I wrote a good post in my blog?


But I hope it's been good practice. 'Cause I've got more to do.

Step One


At 11:45 AM, Blogger Roman said...

I read all that just to get to a bad link?

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Joe Speaker said...

link fixed. (I think)

Since I'm registered there, I get to see all the pages. It's a very exclusive club comprising...well...anybody.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Roman said...

Nah, it's still bad. Now it takes me to some queer-ass novel writing site. IsoP

At 3:56 PM, Blogger JasonSpaceman said...

Good luck with NaNo. I crashed and burned last year...and learned a lot from the experience. And I haven't written fiction since.

Gee, I hope that's more encouraging to you than it sounds to me.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger facty said...

Thank you for your insightful review of Charlotte Simmons. I was reading it last night and turned to my fhwrdh and said "I think I dont like this - it doesn't seem like a Tom Wolf book". He handed me a copy of Harrington on Hold Em and went to sleep.

Further, I hate Jonathan Franzen. I hated the Corrections. Just thought I'd share.

Finally, I enjoy your blog. As you may have noticed, my own poker blog only has about 40% poker content. Thats because I think that people who only talk about one subject are boring. You are not boring at all.

Doublefinally, I count myself as a faithful reader and would like to be thanked when you accept your Pulitzer.


At 8:03 PM, Blogger Maudie said...

Do glad you've got more to do 'cause that gives the likes of me more to read. 8^)

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Donkeypuncher said...

I was nervous that the link was gonna take me to a page where you declare how pretty you are.

Good luck with NaNo!

At 8:28 PM, Blogger peacecorn said...

Best of luck with NanoWrimo. (I sold my soul to them two years ago.) Here's to hoping that insomnia kicks back in come November 1st! (And I want to read it!)


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