Monday, February 05, 2007

Africa: Day 11 (Prose and Cons)

I sit here in the soft luminescent glow proffered by the dinner lighting in the Venizia, nearby the railing of the veranda overlooking the subterranean seafood restaurant here in the hotel Corinthia. I am awash in the sounds of dozens of languages flowing around me like wonderfully exotic fish in a zoo aquarium. The tumult of voices blends into a natural buzz of after-thought, no one conversation or language being able to be singled out of the mix.

I came here tonight to write. I have no subject and no particular inspiration at the moment, so I sit here in search of a divine message. I feel like Noah on the mountain, awaiting the words of god to come spilling forth for him to write. Again today I was told by a friend that I possess a literary talent that needs to be more thoroughly explored. I can certainly agree that I have the mental construction to be a writer. I am similar to authors in that I live for the praise of others, both in spoken and written word; one of my greatest failings I admit. Rarely am I sufficiently pleased in my accomplishments enough to sit quietly and be proud of them. My ego requires supplicative support from others from which to fuel itself.

I will admit to having a desire, for to call it a yearning would be to overstate the strength of the notion, to become a writer. Since I was young this desire has plagued me from time to time, waxing and waning like a benign cancer throughout the years. Sometimes it will go into remission for years only to experience a resurgence at the strangest of times. However, I have come to accept that this is a part of my personality that I have never been able to consciously harness to any effect. I can not simply sit at the keyboard and wait for words to appear in my head. I have even resorted to the old fashioned method of pen and paper, trying pencil when the ink failed to produce any result, as if I were a doctor trying to select the proper knife when any perform the task with equal succinct results.

In my younger life, back in high school, I lived for essays, dreading only the limitations on the length of the narrative I was being asked to deliver. I remember when, in my sophomore year in school, sitting in English class, I was tasked to write a short story. Actually the whole class was tasked with the same goal. I remember well the ensuing moans of displeasure that erupted from the classroom. I however was eager for the task. Possessing an electronic typewriter that accepted three and a half inch disks, I spent many nights banging away on that story, creating character outlines and filling entire notebooks with arcs of plot ideas, twists, and backstory. Having no idea how to truly be an author, I simply attacked the task the same way I do everything else; with a brute force mentality that simply would not accept defeat. Having no skill for the task at hand, I eventually found my own natural rhythm and began the first of many hours typing that story.

The assignment was for a five to ten page short story, though I can’t remember the other criteria. As time drew closer to turn in the paper I grew more and more frantic, spending more and more frustrated hours at the typewriter; not in fear of not being able to complete the narrative assignment, but in fear of not being able to finish the plot I had so painstakingly setup in my mind. The evening before it was due I was able to finally apply the finishing touches, prepare a proper binding and sleep the sleep of those who have accomplished what they set out to do. I should say now that I endured endless ribbing for weeks following the delivery of that paper to class. Rather than the five page short story, I dropped on my teacher’s desk with an audible thud, a one-hundred and forty page novella, complete with cast of characters and chapter headings.

I got an A.

This proclivity for writing went to hibernation for three more years, never again rearing its head in any real form until my sophomore year of college. There I began my required studies of world history pre-1500’s under the tutelage of professor Kenneth Wilburn. Fascinated by the subject of civilization as taught by a man who truly loved his subject matter, I took avid notes on the subject matter. As a matter of passing the course, all students were required to create a journal of our daily study material as well as an integrated journal of class lecture. As with the novella, I took to this task with delight. This time, however and never before or since, the enthusiasm stayed with me for the entire semester; so much so in fact that when the semester finally ended and we were required to turn in our journals I was the only student who didn’t get his returned to him. Fearing some reprisal, I was quite worried when I was invited, though it sounded much more like a demand, to the professors study after class. I entered the classroom and took the proffered seat judiciously, though really having no idea what the nature of this meeting entailed. Professor Wilburn had never before asked me to his office, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. On his desk in front me, sliced through with shades of sunlight from the louvered blinds was my journal. Having turned this in to our teacher’s assistant as required, in private, I was truly upset that the material I had worked so hard on might not meet par. Again, my ego would have been crushed at that instant if so many hundreds of hours of work were to be discarded as filth not worth grading.

I was quite surprised however when he patted me on the back and told me the reason for his requested meeting. He began by asking me if I had the soft copies of the material I had presented for grading, which I tenuously handed over to him, my hands probably shaking at the thought of failing his class. Only then, with the disks firmly in hand did break a smile and congratulate me on delivering what he considered the best journal he had ever seen. He patted the manuscript thoughtfully and informed me that he would prefer if I not show this to anyone else or sell the journal for profit. When I expressed confusion as to his insinuation, he slid the course book over beside the journal I had written. He laughed then and pointed to the two of them sitting there side by side. If I remember, the course material was around seven hundred and fifty pages long. My journal, bereft of pictures and wide margins was an astounding four hundred and fifty pages of single spaces, ten point text. He informed me that the material itself would provide an easy A to any student who wished to read it instead of actually paying attention in his class.

This was the first and only time a written material of mine has ever achieved the praise of an academic who was well versed in the subject on which I was writing. After taking a moment to remove my heart from my throat and place it firmly back in the middle of my chest where it belonged, I thanked him for his kindness and his generous words and promised never to duplicate the work for profit. I did cheat a little however. As soon as I left his office, I went back to my computer in the dorm room, copied the files to disk yet again and proceeded to the student computer lab where I printed the entire document one more time. I reverently bound the material and placed it in an orange journal cover and gave it an honored spot on the shelf in my dorm. Today it lies packed in a box in a storage shed, but I have never been able to part with the document. I still keep the computer disks in my office drawer, where they have been for over nine years now. I’m not sure why I keep them, only that I know they make me smile when I accidentally stumble across them while trying to find something in my desk.

So, there you have my thoughts for today; a narrative about two narratives, none of the three of which shall ever make a publisher’s shelves.

Yes, it is true. I would love to be a writer. To turn out plot twists with the panache of Koontz, , Gabaldon, Donaldson, Jordan, King, Hoag, Johansen, or any of today’s other bestselling authors would be a major accomplishment for me as well as fulfilling one of those many “what I want to be when I grow up” fantasies. However, even the basic idea for how to become a writer eludes me. Never having been one to study the process, I haven’t the slightest idea how to capture the attention of editors, publishers, marketing gurus, or others in the literary world.

Does one simply write a book first and then beat the publishers to death begging for audience and a chance to be given an editorial review? If so, this seems to me that there is somewhere a massive store of novels who share a lonely life together in the vast store rooms of literary warehouses somewhere in middle America. Maybe even worse would be the knowledge that those never-published works simply were discarded into trash cans in office cubicles, making their way down to the garbage chutes rather than the bookshelves, much as the dreams of their would-be authors follow the same path into the midden-heap of failure.

Supposing again that I did succeed? Would I begin to regret the tedium that became my life when I abandoned all other career pursuits in the hopes of becoming a famous author? Knowing myself and my egotistical limitations, I can’t see being happy being only a mediocre writer, never making it to eye level in the shelves of america’s bookstores. Well, maybe all this just deserves more thought. I suppose that being a 29 year old man means I have plenty of time with which to consider such an idea. I truly would love to feel a hardcover novel one day, written in my own words with an artist-airbrushed photo on the dust jacket.

All in all, I must say “Thanks Tom,” for now I have had a chance to at least explore the idea on paper as well as to create another blog topic. I’m sure most of you didn’t make it this far into this posting. To those who did, I raise my glass to you in sincerest thanks for taking the time from your life to share my thoughts.

Till next time…

Tommy 02/05/07 0124HRS GMT+2

1 comment:

  1. I read it all the way through again. When I read the things you write, I am amazed at how someone can visualize the things you do and then actually put them into meaning. (As you can tell from what I'm writing, I have no clue) I think way too fast and my brain has moved on to something else before I even finish what I'm talking about)

    Anyway, I have a comment on your concerns about how to be a writer. You don't have to figure out how to be one, you already are one. I would say not to get hung up in all the drama about what it takes, and how to do it. A child has no clue how to walk, but enjoys the journey of taking that first step and seeing where it goes. When that first step satisfies some curiousity, the child takes the next. The child is not concerned about how they look, or whether or not they can make it across the room. They just take the step, and then they take the next. And before they know it, just the journey itself has produced the desired result that they didn't even know they were looking for!

    Before I neared the end of this post I was already thinking that you had already drawn me in to your writing. Even though it was about something as mundane as narrative about narratives. I read it all the way through and found myself intrigued by the story. The way you have with painting a mental picture (something I've always loved Stephen King for) just draws me in.

    Anyway, I wish you would just start a story about something that you like. I'm not a writer, but I do know that you don't get the first chapter without writing the first word. I'm an expert at knowing that you just have to do something every day towards your goal, and before you know it, you are well past the goal. (BTW: On this vein, I weighed in at 180 pounds today. This is 12 pounds from where I started this fitness journey of mine back in October) I've enjoyed almost all of the journey and I still enjoy working out and eating well. It pays off, but you can't expect it to happen overnight. I believe that anything that you are proud of takes a very long time to build.

    So, go write something. I think you should write some kind of story about all of your friends and the lives they lead. That is something you're passionate about. There is no doubt there would be plenty of drama to draw from and write about.

    Ok, so, now I've written my longest post all as a result of your writing. Huummmmm. I guess you have no ability to inspire. You probably didn't set out to inspire, but I wrote a significantlyi long post as a result.



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