I took a quiz on Facebook recently telling you which author you wrote like. For the quiz, the participant pastes a copy of his/her work into the space provided and an algorithm analyzes the text and determines what author (of those that had been decided upon as possible outcomes by the programmers) you write like. I decided to test it out. I chose the first section of my novella "I'm Hoping This Work", from my MFA thesis I Am My Own Nemesis. (I have included that excerpt below.) The result: David Foster Wallace. Having had a love/hate relationship with the work of the unfortunately late Mr. Wallace I was a little suspicious of this comparison, so I tested another piece: the first section of a short story told in a more traditional narrative form than the novella. (The novella excerpt is admittedly told in a more stream-of-consciousness, run-on sentence style). The result: David Foster Wallace. "This can't be," I said. "There must be a glitch in the program. Let me try one of my flash fiction pieces." Copied, pasted, analyze button clicked. Result: a David Foster Wallace trifecta! I tried another. Same result. I finally received a different result when I attached the first section of yet another short story: William Gibson, and with another piece from my thesis I received JD Salinger. (Apparently I'm in good company, but it took five tries to not get David Foster Wallace. That's like trying to kiss someone four times, and each time they pass you off. The fifth time you try, they're exhausted, half-asleep or drugged up to the point where they think you're David Beckham, so they give you a go. You finally got the kiss you wanted, but only under the strictest circumstances, and only after you were the last person left and they thought you were someone else.) I resigned myself to this fate. And decided to analyze the decision to see how far off, and to see whether my initial reaction was justified. My former disdain of Foster Wallace dates back to my early-to-mid twenties. During this period I suffered from a near-fatal malady known as pretentious hipsterism. Symptoms include a disdain for anything popular and loved by the masses, regardless of the artist's former hipster credibility; an obsessive love of anything and everything espoused by Harper's magazine; an embrace of obscure films, music, and books, the more arcane and confounding the better; this aspect naturally adheres to a love of David Lynch, Thomas Pynchon, and John Cage or Einsturzende Neubauten. Those suffering from pretentious hipsterism will maintain their love of these seemingly inscrutable artworks and artists in an effort to maintain status and based on a sense of inflated self-worth and general disdain for everyone else. If they genuinely do not understand it, they will latch on to the artist-in-question for fear of being exposed and being lumped with those he/she is trying to be isolated from. The fact that other people don't understand the work is a sign of their inferiority, despite the hipster's inability to objectively justify and explain their avowed understanding of the work. Common phrases to be heard are, "I totally get what he was trying to do. Well, it's hard to explain. You just have to get it" and "Oh my god! You didn't get it? It's like" followed by an explanation peppered with other obscure references with the hope of baffling the person asking what it meant while never getting around to explaining or even answering what the person who "didn't get it" was asking. Other symptoms include unkempt appearance, flannel shirts, permanent three to four day stubble on the men, an adoption of affectations in the form of headwear (i.e. fedora, bandana, driver's cap, etc.), and a reticent air of superiority. Foster Wallace met all of these criteria and more. His work was defined by long run-on sentences, bloated, over-inflated page lengths for stories, an obsessive need for footnotes in most of his work, including fiction, an overindulgence in scientific and mathematical references (an effort to show how much he had read), and a general reputation that the more convoluted and inscrutable a work, the more he would be regarded as a genius. His most heralded work is Infinite Jest, a 1088 page novel about so many topics, the novel has its own reference set and its own cultish reading groups dedicated to it. In his author photos, Wallace wore a bandana over long scraggly hair that hung to his lower neck. He possessed permanent stubble. He also has a cult-like following and his work has routinely been referred to as erudite, inscrutable, confusing, and among the most talented writers if his generation. After hearing so much about him and the ubiquitous Infinite Jest, I decided to read some of him. I went to the library and took out his short story collection Girl With Curious Hair, and his essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never do Again, an edited version of the title essay having appeared in Harper's. The short stories were okay, some being amazing, including "Everything is Green," one of the greatest examples of how power shifts being two characters in a story, sometimes without one of the characters saying a word. Some were a bit more obtuse and show-offy (e.g., "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way"). The essay collection is where I truly developed my love/hate relationship with him. In the title essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" Wallace travels aboard a Caribbean cruise and examines what life is like for seven days, what the behind-the-scenes are like, the people, his own reactions to being on the cruise and having to write about it, and his ultimate views on what supposedly being pampered and treated like luxury really is like. The essay is extremely funny, absorbing, and frustrating, just like the majority of his work, riddled with self-conscious irony and an awareness of his growing detachment from the rest of the staff. He stated in an interview (which I am still trying to find the link to) that he regretted his detached and forced ironic depiction of everyone on the cruiser and, had he not been on assignment for Harper's, he may have been able to enjoy himself, but felt he had to put on the detached ironic air for the magazine. Whether he would have voluntarily boarded a cruise liner had he not been reporting is up for debate, but pencil me as skeptical that he would have done so. However, the essay "David Lynch Keeps His Head" is where I really began to loathe Foster Wallace. Although I always acknowledged his talent, I sometimes referred to him as overrated and a pretentious ass: let me explain. In the essay he details Lynch's Lost Highway almost shot by shot, analyzing the movie to a ridiculous degree, believing the movie is a misunderstood masterpiece. I had recently seen Lost Highway and can safely say that it is, for the most part, the most ridiculous of all Lynch movies; it is routinely, and rightfully so, I believe, referred to as one of Lynch's worst movies, almost universally as panned as his Dune was, and as inscrutable as his Inland Empire. (For the record, I don't consider Inland Empire to be his worst movie, just easily the most baffling film in history; baffling isn't bad, it's exactly what it is: confusing, headache-inducing, and possibly good, but I can't be certain.) To me, for someone to be waxing poetic in masturbatory fashion about the virtues and genius of Lost Highway, was to me like saying a deep-fried Twinkie was good enough to be served at a five-star restaurant; it was like saying Michael Bolton should sing opera; that Nicholas Sparks should not only win a Nobel Prize in literature, but also the Nobel Peace Prize as well. It is, to put it simply, a fucking stupid idea. And Lost Highway is just bad. It was one of the first movies I rented and didn't finish and did not feel bad about not having finished it. I have no intention of returning to Lost Highway either to see if maybe, just maybe my previous viewpoint was wrong. It is also around the time when I began to cure myself of pretentious hipsterism. The movie wasn't misunderstood and genius because I didn't understand it. It was hard to understand because it made no sense. This began the long slog out of pretentious hipsterism. All those bands and movies and TV shows I used to rail against (mostly soft rock, anything with a popular following, and uplifting movies) I began to give a second chance. I didn't hold peoples' tastes against them; if I thought something was bad, if someone listened to latter-day Stevie Wonder or Michael Bolton or Celine Dion, I didn't hold it against them just because I didn't like it; I didn't consider that person inferior because they thought Olivia Tremor Control was weird if they had even heard of them; because they thought Aphex Twin and Autechre were inscrutable and the name of the latter was deliberately unpronounceable. (I have recently been the victim of my previous mentality, receiving the same condescending correction from someone when I mispronounced the name of Autechre, although I knew who the band was and could discuss their music. How obnoxious hipsterism is, I thought? How I hope I never treated anyone with such sneering superiority?); just because someone liked Phil Collins or read Danielle Steele or thought Tori Spelling was a good actress does not mean they were intellectually inferior to me. It just meant they had different tastes. I began seeing the talent level of bands I didn't like; could see their appeal to others and maintain my own aesthetic tastes. Because ultimately that's what tastes in music, books, and movies comes down to: aesthetics. And aesthetics aren't better or worse: they're just aesthetics. Having developed this new found acceptance, I decided to give David Foster Wallace, the king of hipster lit, another shot. And I began to like him. Not all of his work: I will probably never read Infinite Jest, but I won't hold it against him, and I won't hold it against anyone who wants to read it: it just doesn't appeal to me. And I began to realize that his essays were quite brilliant. I read some of his essays from Consider the Lobster and began reading some of his interviews. I saw at a bookstore in New York that he had written a book on infinity (Everything and More) which appealed him to me even more: he was omnivorous in his interests. I recently discussed Wallace with a professor of mine, in discussing this essay/entry I was writing, and in discussing the Facebook test I had taken. She mentioned a few of his essays from Consider the Lobster I had not read. I look forward to reading them now. In my second semester we had to read the craft book Why I Write edited by Will Blythe and write a brief essay on that book. Twenty-six writers were asked why they wrote including Norman Mailer, Pat Conroy, and David Foster Wallace. The Wallace chapter "The Nature of the Fun" really impressed me. I responded to it immediately and decided to write my essay in the same fashion Wallace did, and while trying to mimic his style in this essay, in discussing why I wrote, I probably had more fun writing than almost any other time. Wallace, stated that, a story in progress was like: "a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows the writer around, forever crawling after the writer (dragging itself across the floors of restaurants where the writer’s trying to eat, appearing at the foot of the bed first thing in the morning, etc.), hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded and dribbling cerebro-spinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles and cries out to the writer, wanting love, wanting the very thing its hideousness guarantees it’ll get: the writer’s complete attention.” And he's right. It is like that. I decided to paste the entirety of that essay in this blog, but since this entry has gone on long enough, I will paste it as another entry. Probably tomorrow. After taking the I Write Like test, I commented on the post, "I'll take that." I meant it.
Since this is only a short run, I can afford to go out a little faster.
Now let me start concentrating on what I think, so I can write that essay when I get home.
I've been wondering lately how many books, how many stories exist about running, and I don't believe there are a lot. On the contrary, I believe there are hundreds, nay thousands of books about running, non-fiction books, essays, etc. But I don't know how much fiction has been written about running, in which running played a major role in the story itself. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" by Alan Sillitoe, (I should probably re-read that, perhaps even re-read that before I finish this essay, before I name-check it in the middle of this entry for it, but it's already been packed. I could go to the library and check it out, but that would make too much sense, and I'm too lazy.) There's Chariots of Fire by Vangelis. No, that's the soundtrack. Chariots of Fire was written by.... actually it wasn't a book. It was an original screenplay. And I'm sure there are other stories or novels out there written about running, but I can't think of any. (Maybe I should deliberately write that there isn't much fiction written about running so that I can then get people to correct me in their comments, a deliberate ploy to get readership and comments directed here. Feign ignorance, or let others do my research for me. Or by admitting that that is my intent, will people feel aggravated and put-upon and not make any suggestions at all? Or perhaps I'm just writing about how I'm going to write this essay, and what I thought about while running today to keep with the meta-narrative subtext and theme?) (Or maybe I could just make a list of books that deal with running and do a little research and stop being lazy?) (Or is that last statement a way to get people to think that this self-conscious exercise about writing about writing about running is charming?) (Or is it?) (Ahhhh.... the obnoxious charm of post-modernist, self-conscious meta- writing. When pulled off correctly it's charming. When not, it's obnoxious.)
But seriously, I really can't think off the top of my head of many other stories or novels that deal with running. Perhaps I should read more or do some research. But would that be cheating?
I continually read about Murakami's memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running when reading other running blogs and about memoir in general. And I continually wonder if I should read it or not. And I think I should, but is that the Murakami book I want to start with?
I talked to a classmate and friend a few weeks back about wanting to read Somerset Maugham and I asked her what Maugham she recommended I should start with. (I asked this knowing that some authors' works are more inaccessible than others, and I wouldn't recommend Finnegan's Wake for someone who wants to read Joyce.) Her reaction was that if there was anything our MFA program had taught her was that we shouldn't put arbitrary limits on ourselves for what you want to read, because then you'll never get around to reading it. If you want to read something, read it, regardless of how other people have felt about it, or regardless of how "difficult" the work might be or how "unlike" their other works this might be. Just read it.
Perhaps I should take her advice and just read the Murakami memoir on running. And get to his other books later. If I want to read that one book now, I should.
How long do I plan on making this essay? I obviously haven't kept up with the once-per-day regiment I had intended. And if I do intend for this to be published in a semi-serious journal at some point, I should revise it drastically and have an arc and an endpoint in mind. Maybe I could set it up as a marathon, each entry could be a mile marker. However, that does not mean that each entry is what goes through your head as you are running a marathon. But it could be a nice structural gimmick in which readers would know when and where it stopped. Nice idea. (Let's hear it for the cool-down walk.)
When did that song leave my head during the run today?
I should go back and add hyperlinks to this tomorrow or later in the week. But I won't right now. It's pretty late. And I want to get this posted.
For a long time I have wanted to write an essay regarding what goes on through one's head while they are running. The structure of the essay would mirror the patterns of one's thoughts while running: in other words, the essay would be as scattered, fragmented, and stream-of-conscious as the thoughts that pass through one's head during a normal day.
I have also for a while now wanted to write a long experimental essay that would take place over the course of time, in which individuals would be free to jump in at any point, an essay that would take into account the concept of time and participation, in which the ending was not written as people are reading it, as it is published. A serial experimental essay. I realized the running essay would be the perfect venue for this type of structure and real-time experiment.
Given the recent passing of David Markson, and how his distinctive latter-day style was equally fragmented, seemingly arbitrary, and random as the firing of synapses in our brains, it seems fitting that I start this now. This essay will be an ode to Markson and will include many of the thoughts that flow through my own head while running. It will be self-reflexive, random, arbitrary; it will include longer sections of research concerning the physiological changes that happens while we run, what chemicals our body releases and how it affects our muscles and our moods; it will contain many grammatical errors as I will be publishing it in real-time. (I will go back and edit each entry, and possibly rearrange the order of each section.) It will also make no sense to anyone who happens to read just one sentence every so often, which, I suppose, is also part of the intent.
Overall, the intent of the essay is to show how running and writing are inter-related, to explore their reciprocal, symbiotic relationship: how the activities themselves resemble the stream-of-consciousness style, and how the two can best be described and experienced only during the actual doing of the activity. Both are performed, for the most part, in solitude. (Even with the inclusion of runner's groups or a running partner, or the invention of writers groups, running and writing are ultimately a solitary activities.) A writer is happiest when he is writing, not when the product is finished. A runner is happiest when he is running, not when he sees his time and distance after the run.
Also, in an effort at maintaining another continuous project, I will attempt to include at least one new section per day, even if that section is one random sentence. This introduction does not count as a section of the essay.
I hope you all enjoy this project. As always, any feedback is well-appreciated.
David Markson passed away over the weekend. The official obituaries say that he passed away on June 6, but the articles also state that his children found him on June 4th. The exact date of when he actually passed is unknown, which seems strangely appropriate. The narrator of this fragmented novel states at one point:
"Perhaps I am no more than 47 or 48," the narrator explains. "I am certain that I once attempted to keep a makeshift accounting, possibly of the months, but surely at least of the seasons. But I do not even remember any longer when it was that I understood I had already since lost track."
David Foster Wallace wrote that Markson was direly underappreciated and wrote that Wittgenstein's Mistress was "quite possibly the high point of experimental literature in this country." I would go one step further and claim that Markson was perhaps the high point of experimental literature. Period. (For the record, I have not read Wittgenstein's Mistress, but I have read This Is Not a Novel and Reader's Block, and I can't imagine that Mistress eclipses those by a terribly large margin. It is the novel where he began what became his late career fragmentary, experimental style.) In 2007 he was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. That same year New York Magazine called him "the best writer you never heard of."
A year and a half ago I was attending a writer's conference in Chicago. One of the workshops on the agenda was a tribute to David Markson, which I had checked off on my giant conference booklet as one of the lectures I wanted to attend. I decided at the last minute not to attend as there were other more career-appropriate lectures for me at that point: how to go about applying for a grant, or how to write a query letter, or how to go about getting flash fiction pieces published. At that point I also had not completed This is Not a Novel and had not yet read Reader's Block. Had I known that the man who reinvented what was possible with a novel would pass away less than two years later I most certainly would have said, "Career be damned! This is David Markson." I have very few regrets in my life, but I can add my skipping of that lecture to that short list.
My remembrance of Markson's life as a writer and his work cannot match one of the tributes I read to him earlier today. As such, I will let journalist Sarah Weinman's much more eloquent words speak for me:
"Others will chime in with more reasoned and coherent essays on what Markson meant for American literature, and I'll link to those as I do to other missives below once they come in. But I got to know the writer's work, and later on, a little bit, the man, through his earliest output, a couple of entertaining and erudite crime novels featuring a scamp of a private detective named Harry Fannin. I'd read THIS IS NOT A NOVEL and had been excited and blown away, and just weeks later I was assigned to write my very first piece for the Los Angeles Times - a double review of those two Fannin novels, EPITAPH FOR A TRAMP and EPITAPH FOR A DEAD BEAT... "After that review he got in touch with me - oddly enough by email, through a friend, since he did not own a computer - and we corresponded a little, by postcard and letter. I'd see him at the Strand Bookstore sometimes, one of his regular haunts, shooting the shit with the cavalcade of managers working the review copy desk in the basement... "I saw Markson last at the public memorial for David Foster Wallace. I hadn't seen him around for several months and asked after him and his health. But the answer, at least to me, was obvious. He was more frail. He didn't have to articulate his sadness over Wallace's suicide, that a much-younger man with prodigious talent had died too soon, and that it was a far different feeling from watching friends your own age pass on. A thought passed through my head that Markson might not be around much longer and I should get back in touch, lest the inevitable catch me off-guard. Like many good intentions, it wasn't acted upon."
A friend texted me recently, asking, "Have you ever written something and say 'Wow! That's cool'" I responded, "Yes, I have. 95% of what I write is junk or average. But that other 5% is why I keep writing." The percentage of these moments compared to the amount of time spent writing is drastically small (as noted in my response to my friend), but these are the moments that make us continue to write, paint, create music, sculpt, act, whatever our creative outlets happen to be.
This exchange made me wonder about the best writing moments I have had. Some of these did not result in my best work, those perfectly crystalline phrases that make you want to scream, "Hey Everybody!! I just wrote an amazing line. Everyone needs to read this! Or listen to me read them the line," causing you to then run downstairs to find your spouse or significant other and tell them the line, but then remember that they just had a hard day at work and are sitting on the sofa wrist-deep in a carton of ice cream so you move on to your kids, but they'll just look at you as if you had three heads, and the context of the brilliant line might not be appropriate for them, or maybe they're not around, off playing with their friends, or at dance or band practice, or off with their own significant others and so you run outside, run up the street stumbling across pedestrians, mailmen, dogs, and you try to read them the line, looking for affirmation of your brilliance, but they also probably don't understand the import of what you wrote, and at this point your focus has shifted to finding people and not on the words themselves but you need to tell someone so you decide upon the only place where people would appreciate this: the library! And you sprint into the library only to find that they don't like screaming in there, so you might as well go back to your typewriter, sheaf of paper, computer and continue writing.
Those types of lines were not created in these greatest writing moments. Instead these are the moments of creativity where you feel this is what you should be doing, where you immerse yourself into the flow of creativity, when your mind and will merge into one intention: to create. They are also not in any discernible order.
1. During my senior year of undergrad, I was taking two courses--Sports in Literature, Children's/Young Adult Literature--with the same professor. The final paper for each class required us to write a story within each genre. I asked if I could consolidate the assignments and write one story for both classes. On a Friday night, both my roommates away for the weekend, I stayed in and decided to write the paper. I lay on my bed tossing a ball in the air, each errant throw bouncing off the wall, sometimes falling behind the bed as I lunged, missing the catch, juggling ideas for how to write a story that could fit within the sports literature and the adolescent literature genres, and make it something I would enjoy writing. Then I had it! I wrote for four hours straight on my electronic word processor: it allowed 6500 character spaces before the draft had to be printed and deleted. I printed out nearly five pages of single-spaced brilliance (everything you write between the ages 0f 18 and 21 is brilliant!) and continued with the story. About an hour later I stopped writing mid-sentence, stumped on one word, the perfect word for that thought, that sentence. I took advantage of this momentary mental respite to make dinner. While I stirred the boiling water, the word came to me. I went to my room and continued typing until I remembered the boiling water on the stove. What had been a full pot of boiling water was now less than an inch, smoke evaporating into the stove lights. I turned the water off and finished the story.
I submitted this as a first and only draft. About a week later, I saw my professor. He asked me why I did not submit this story for the campus-wide writing contest. The deadline for the contest had already passed before I wrote the story, I told him. "I was the primary judge for that contest. This would have won hands down." "I didn't know that," I said. "And the deadline had already gone by." "I would have allowed it." "Oh. Thank you. I didn't know." I have since revisited this piece and had it reviewed at a workshop a few years back. I will one day revisit it again, incorporating some of the suggestions made in that workshop. However much this story may improve, the finished version will not match the flurry of creativity I felt that Friday night in my apartment when I wrote the first draft.
2. About a year ago I was sitting in my apartment and realized I needed to get out of the house and write. My environment was becoming distracting. Each time I would start writing I would look to my right at the books on my bookshelf that needed to be read; I would minimize my word document and check my email accounts obsessively; I would internally lament that of the 800+ CDs I had on the left wall, none seemed to provide the proper writing soundtrack. I needed to manufacture accountability, and my comforts and hobbies were trapping me, preventing me from being accountable to my writing and myself. I went to the library. I was working on a story in which one of the plots regards the nature of luck and superstition. Specifically, I was working on a scene where the main character, after purchasing what he hopes will be a couple of bags of lucky marbles at a toy store as a boy, gives up on all superstition and lucky trinkets and baubles. I found a table upstairs and began writing. Upon finishing the scene, I looked to the bookshelves to my left. There on the metal shelves stood books on toys, crafts, hobbies, games, including a few on marbles. I hadn't noticed them when I entered the room: I had just seen an empty table in a quiet section of the library. Subconsciously, I must have noticed and my surroundings made their way into my story.
3. A month after the serendipitous marble scene, I went to New York City for a few days for research. I needed to roam the streets of the city for a novella that took place here. I went to the New York Public Library, one of the favorite places on all of the planet. (The reasoning for my love of the NYPL will be a future post: if I listed my reasons now it would detract from this post.) I found one of the open study rooms. Surrounded by walls of old law books, ceiling painted like a Sistine Chapel, I plugged in my laptop and began writing. With scores of students, teachers, researchers, tour groups milling about, poring over books and laptops I found an accountability in my anonymity. If any of these people did not see me writing, then why was I here? Over the course of a few days, I created a scene in the novella that has since required very little revision, a defining moment in the description of a character, where the character's grip on her piety and faith is so tight and unyielding it threatens to undermine and destroy all her other relationships. The novella has a little ways to go before it's complete, but at that moment in the NYPL something clicked within me in the writing of that one scene.
I have had other "Eureka!" moments in writing but these are the ones that particularly stand out. Without this inspiration, the finished product will never have a chance of becoming reality.
Now that I have shared some of my greatest moments of writing inspiration, I throw this question out to you: what have been some of your greatest writing or creative moments? You don't need to be a writer. You could be a cook, a painter, a graphic designer, a maker of scrapbooks, seamstress, horse rider, baseball player, geologist. Feel free to share.
With the creation of Scribblings & Bibblings that question was actually already answered: to blog. However, as is the case with everything in life, one question begets other questions which begets other questions which... we see where this is going. (There really is something to that "Ignorance is bliss" thing.) The real question is "to blog every day or not to blog every day?"
The decision to blog leads to the question how often does one blog. That is where I stand. (Some might think the decision to blog would lead to the question, what does one blog about. But, I would think those questions would be reversed in causality.) Since I decided to launch this website, and since I decided to launch this blog aspect of the website, I have been wrestling with this question. It is a question all bloggers must address at some point. And the answer each one comes up with depends on the person, the blog, and the audience, if there's a readership.
I determined early on that I should probably update the blog two to three times per week, that would be a good way to maintain new material, to not inundate people with updates, and to not overwhelm myself with the time commitment that an everyday, thoughtfully written blog post would require. It would also give me opportunity to give a day or two of thought to my posts, to refine the writing. And, a day or two break between posts would afford me the time for those that would require greater research: when the switch from 'A historic' to 'an historic' began (see author bio at side); book reviews; how punctuation can serve as a style, i.e., the personal preference over parentheses, ellipses, etc.; random top ten pop culture lists; my lifelong bibliomania. (Next post, by the way: my compulsive need to have a book with me at all times.)
And then I read Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.
In the chapter 'March', Rubin decided to tackle the aspects of her work life where she could improve her happiness. Part of this was to start a blog. But I'll let her words speak for her:
But despite the promise of a big happiness payoff, I felt apprehensive. I worried about the time and effort a blog would consume, when I already felt pressed for time and mental energy. It would require me to make decisions that I didn't feel equipped to make. It would expose me daily to public criticism and failure. It would make me feel stupid. Then, around this time, I happened to run into two acquaintances who had blogs of their own, and together they gave me the few pieces of key advice that I needed to get started. Maybe these providential meetings were a product of cosmic harmony --"When the student is ready, the teacher appears"-- or maybe they were examples of the efficacy of articulating my goals. Or maybe I just got lucky... "Post every day, that's absolutely key," insisted my second adviser, who ran a law blog. Oh dear, I thought with dismay, I'd planned to post three times a week.
And so it is we are back to the beginning of the entry. What to do, what to do? How many times to post? This question ranks for me in the same realm as "Should I have another cup of coffee? Should I have another beer? Should I start homework or check Facebook statuses (statusi?) one more time?(Note to self: blog post for future: what words or plurals could stand to be updated or improved upon?) Should I move to New York City, back to Boston, or to a different city entirely?" Clearly this question bedevils me. I guess I'll figure this out in the upcoming days, weeks, and months, hopefully years, that this will be in existence.
While writing the last entry on the revision process, I was reminded of a poem I wrote in undergrad. It is a mediocre poem, however at the time, tainted with undergraduate brio, I thought it was brilliant, and I thought I was on my way to becoming the next Rilke, Neruda, Ferlinghetti. The one aspect of the poem that retained a good idea was the fact that I kept every revision of it, including the original long-hand version, and every cross-off and each line that I X'ed out with my typewriter. (Yes, I used a typewriter in undergrad. I'm not dating myself; I'm just indicting my inability to embrace technology in a timely manner.)
I have included all those versions below as a means to show how, even in a mediocre poem, a piece evolves over many version. The last version of the poem, I revised in the process of this entry, almost fifteen years since the last revision.
All testimony to the fact that a piece of writing will never fully be completed by its author. We just choose to stop working on it:
Sunflower (version 1)
a sunflower painted with meticulous strokes on a coffee cup (evoking memories of Ginsburg and of Blake and and of Blake and Kerouac from him) memories of running through a field blowing with pursed lips from the depths of my lungs the spokes and feathers and petals and leaves off each and every dandelion geranium pussy-willow &%$@*-willow sunflower that crosses my path into the air decapitating the flowering with each swipe of my arms
Sunflower (version 2)
A sunflower Painted with delicate meticulous strokes on a hand-crafted ceramic cup evoking memories of Ginsburg (and of Blake and Kerouac from him) evoking memories of childhood of running carelessly through an open field blowing with pursed lips with breathes mustered from the depths of my lungs pulmonary sacks filling like a blowfish like Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks the spokes and feathers and and petals and leaves off each and every dandelion geranium brambleweed sunflower that crosses my wayward path into the stanch fragile air blowing with unmitigated ferocity each leaf from its burgeoning stem decapitating the poor harmless vegetation with each pendulous swipe of my arms mouth sustained in an oblate grin laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing and running aimlessly after each dandelion puff floating pathlessly in the air each sunflower running and laughing the whole way through my golden field my harbinger of spright sits atop my paper-strewn desk sturdy base slowly seeping its imprint into the grain
Sunflower (version 3)
A sunflower painted with meticulous strokes evoking memories of Ginsburg (and of Blake and Kerouac from him) of childhood running through an open field blowing with pursed lips from the depths of my lungs the spokes and feathers and petals and leaves off each and every dandelion geranium pussy-willow sunflower that crosses my path decapitating them flowering with each swipe of my arms mouth in an orbicular roundish grin laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing and running after each dandelion puff floating in the air each sunflower running and laughing the whole way through my golden field sits atop my paper-strewn desk seeping its imprint Into the grain
Sunflower (version 4)
a sunflower painted with meticulous strokes on a coffee cup evoking memories (of Ginsberg and of Blake and Kerouac from him) of childhood of running through an open field blowing with pursed lips from the depths of my lungs the spokes and feathers and petals and leaves off each and every dandeliongeraniumpussy-willowsunflower that crosses my path decapitating them with each swipe of my arms mouth in a roundish grin laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing and running after each dandelion puff Each sunflower running and laughing the whole way through my golden field sits atop my paper-strewn desk seeping its imprint imprint into the grain.
Sunflower (version 5)
a sunflower painted with meticulous strokes on a coffee cup evoking memories (of Ginsberg and of Blake and Kerouac from him) of childhood of running through an open field blowing with pursed lips from the depths of my lungs the spokes and feathers and petals and leaves off each and every dandeliongeraniumpussy-willowsunflower that crosses my path decapitating them with each swipe of my arms mouth in a roundish grin laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing and running after each dandelion puff floating in the air each sunflower running and laughing the whole way through my golden field sits atop my paper-strewn desk seeping its imprint into the grain.
Sunflower (Version 6 – edited in the process of this entry)
a sunflower painted with meticulous strokes on a coffee cup evoking memories (of Ginsberg and of Blake and Kerouac from him) of running through an open field blowing the spokes and feathers and petals and leaves off each and every dandeliongeraniumpussy-willowsunflower that crosses my path each swipe of my arms mouth in a roundish grin laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing and running after each dandelion puff floating in the air through my golden field sits atop my paper-strewn desk seeping its imprint into the grain.
I recently completed a massive revision of the second half of my graduate thesis. The second half of the thesis is a novella, currently titled "I'm Hoping This Will Work." This arduous, and ultimately rewarding, process obviously caused me to think about the nature of revision itself. It is much like how a child views school: you certainly don't enjoy it while you're doing it, but after it's done, you enjoy the results and see how necessary it was. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ I will be the first person to tell you that I am not a poet. I dabbled a bit in poetry during my undergraduate years, as all writers do, but I soon gravitated towards fiction and essays, where my interests in writings still lie. I know many astounding poets, and I have read wonderful works from these and other people. I read it on occasion and am always envious of their ability to parse and expand the language, to imbue an entire world, emotion, and theory in the briefest, most efficient use of language. I wish I could write that concisely. (I wish I could think that concisely, actually, but that's a separate neurological issue.)
I recently attended the AWP conference in Denver. While preparing for the conference I pored over the schedule of events and narrowed down the seminars, workshops, and lectures I would attend before I arrived. There were many attending that were poetry oriented. In my effort to whittle the hundreds of lectures per day down to a handful, before I later pared that list, I ignored anything that had poetry in the title, or anything that had to do with poetry. This makes it seem like I am anti-poetry. I am not. I just did not have a need for it during the conference. That is until the last lecture of the week. I was convinced to attend this last lecture, which concerned the digital copyrights of poetry and music, and the changing and emerging legal issues concerning digital copyrights and the use of other persons' words. (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/foundation/poetryinstitute.html) While at this lecture, I began to wonder why I had so abdicated poetry over the years, why I had stopped any of it, why I had stopped taking an interest. Even though I had stopped writing it years earlier, why had I abandoned any interest in poetry with such fervor, as if it had nothing to teach me? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ While conceiving of the idea for a quick blog post about revision, I realized that some of my undergraduate attempts at poetry weren't entirely awful. They weren't entirely good, either, which is why I write fiction and essays still, and not poetry. One of these less embarrassing forays into poetry went through many revisions, and I kept every version, including the original longhand scribbles. I kept each copy as a means of showing myself, and possibly other people, how revision is necessary, how much a poem, a story, an essay, etc. changes from its original incarnation to its final state.
Darren Cormier lives in the Boston area. He is the author of A Little Soul: 140 Twitterstories. His fiction has appeared in Opium Magazine, Meetinghouse, Amoskeag, Every Day Fiction, Raft Magazine, Arch Literary Journal, and One Forty Fiction, Ether Books, and Seedpod Publishing. Writing peeves: there should be a comma before the "and" in a set of three or more items; it is "A historic" not "AN historic"--the 'h' is pronounced; would've, could've, and should've are contractions and should never be written as "would of," "could of," or "should of"; and "ATM machine" is redundant. He also invented the giraffe.